Electric company fined £21,000 for F-gas release

6th April 2016

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Gary Tapley

Schneider Electric has been prosecuted by the Environment Agency after it failed to recover a potent greenhouse gas it accidentally released at London Gateway Port in Essex.

The company, which produces energy management equipment, was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,368. The agency bought the case after the company reported the release of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) gas from high voltage switchgear being installed at London Gateway Port in 2013.

Following installation, the busbars that conduct electricity and join the two circuit breakers were found to be faulty and needed to be removed.

During that operation, up to 15kg of SF6 was released. SF6 is a man-made fluorinated greenhouse gas and has the highest global warming potential of any gas covered by climate change legislation. The emission of 1kg of SF6 is equivalent to 22,800kg of CO2, meaning that the gas released during the incident was the equivalent of flying a 737 jet from Heathrow to Sydney, Australia and back three times, according to the agency.

Schneider used its subcontractor, Metricab Power Engineering, to remove the busbars. Metricab was not informed that the switchgear had been filled with the SF6 gas. Consequently the gas was not recovered using F-gas qualified engineers, as required by the law, and was released to the earth’s atmosphere.

The agency argued that that Schneider Electric had not generated any documents such as risk assessments or method statements relating to SF6. Nor did it review the method statement and risk assessment prepared by Metricab, which made no mention of SF6 for the removal of the busbars.

The gas was released for one to two hours before an employee of Schneider Electric realised what was happening and raised the alarm and the site was evacuated.

After the hearing, agency investigating officer Claire Cox said: ‘This particular case displays the long-term environmental harm caused to the atmosphere which is likely to continue beyond our lifetime and for many generations to come.’

Andy Taylor, energy and health and safety director at Schneider Electric, said: ‘We apologise unreservedly for this isolated incident. We conducted an immediate investigation working with all parties involved, to ensure a similar incident will not be repeated. We are fully supportive of the Environment Agency policies and the action against climate change.’

The company saved 12,000 tonnes of CO2 through energy savings in 2015, he added.

Tighter EU regulations for the use of F-gases c came into force last year. The new rules aim to cut use of F-gases by 80% by 2035.


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