No Brexit regulation bonfire

20th July 2017

With Brexit on the horizon, it is perhaps easy to forget that EU directives still apply to the UK and that we are still required to comply with these for at least two years.

Consequently, EU directives have important implications for business, industry and communities while the UK remains within the EU, and potentially even when it is outside it. In addition, the future direction of environmental regulations in the UK remains uncertain. Nobody knows for sure whether Brexit will result in a reduction or a relaxation of environmental controls or if the status quo will remain.

One significant new directive is the Medium Combustion Plant Directive (MCPD). Published in November 2015, the MCPD aims to regulate emissions from combustion plants with a capacity of between 1 MWth and 50 MWth input. It fills the regulatory gap at EU level between large combustion plants (>50 MWth), which are covered under the Industrial Emissions Directive, and smaller appliances (heaters and boilers <1 MWth), which are covered by the Ecodesign of Energy Related Products Directive. The MCPD must be implemented by member states by 19 December 2017.

This deadline was set over a year ago, so those affected have received fair warning and there is no excuse for noncompliance. Ignorance of the MCPD requirements and timescales is, however, not uncommon.

Anyone contemplating new combustion plant now should be considering the requirements, as, from 20 December 2018, new plants must meet this directive.

It is estimated that there are about 140,000 medium-sized combustion plants in use in domestic heating, electricity generation and steam provision for industrial processes across the EU. Meanwhile, air pollution claims an average of eight months off EU citizens’ lives. The directive’s focus is to regulate the emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust from these plants.

The directive also lays down rules to monitor carbon monoxide emissions. New limits and monitoring requirements come into force for larger existing plants (5–50 MWth) from 2025, for smaller existing plants (1–5MWth) from 2030, and for new plants from next year.

As the MCPD has to be transposed into national legislation in each member state by 19 December 2017, it should already be influencing new designs for anything being built and coming into service from next year.

Particular challenges for the UK

Under existing regulatory thresholds – for example, the Environmental Permitting Regulations (England and Wales) 2016 – combustion plant above 50 MWth input is regulated by the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. In England, anything above 20 MWth input comes under local authority regulation. So regulation of combustion plants below 50 MWth input can vary according to how the guidance is interpreted and implemented. Anything below 20 MWth input is not generally specifically covered by regulation unless it involves burning waste.

The MCPD fills the gap between 1 MWth- and 50 MWth-input plants, tidying up regulation of that range and creating a more level playing field across the EU. There should then be some regulatory consistency in terms of the emission limits, plus monitoring requirements that will apply and force people to focus on their assets and ways to reduce emissions and improve equipment efficiency. The directive includes a requirement for the European Commission to review medium combustion plant efficiencies by 1 January 2020 as well as the possibility of minimum standards being set. Potentially, it will have a significant effect as it comes in over time.

Companies with old plant will probably find the biggest challenge is finding the money to carry out the improvements likely to be required to meet the directive. There is a lot of very old equipment (boilers, generators, etc) within this range, so there may be difficulties in retrofitting or upgrading it, and it may be impossible to meet the requirements of the directive with old equipment still in place. There is also a shortage of engineers able to deal with this.

Recent years have seen installation of diesel-powered combustion equipment of 1 MWth to 50 MWth increasing to satisfy the changing demands of the energy supply market and in biomass combustion plant. Both sectors can present challenges for MCPD compliance.

We’re still awaiting analysis of the responses to proposals by the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs for implementing the MCPD and regulating emissions from generators in England and Wales. Scotland has also held a similar consultation. As the clock ticks down to 19 December, businesses must start to take action to ensure they have the equipment available and the qualified staff employed to meet the directive.

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