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EU power plant emission limits will more than halve pollution by 2030

New requirements for emissions from new and existing power plants in the EU will cut pollution from the sector at least in half by 2030. But the level of ambition from national governments will determine how significant the changes to air quality will be, according to the bloc's environmental agency.

In a new analysis, the European Environment Agency, or EEA, found that new limits on sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and dust emissions from all power plants starting in 2021 will lead to emissions reductions of at least 51% to 66%, depending on the pollutant. But if member states take advantage of the most stringent provisions of recent EU legislation, much higher reductions could be achieved, the agency said.

Under the EU's Industrial Emissions Directive, passed in 2017, member states are required to adopt a range of emission limits for pollutants into their permit conditions for industrial plants. These already apply to new power plants and will qualify for all existing ones by 2021 at the latest.

By 2030, according to the EEA analysis, implementing the upper emission limits would cut emissions by 66% for SO2, 56% for particulate matter and 51% for NOx, compared with 2016. The most ambitious targets under the directive would result in reductions of 91% for SO2, 82% for particulate matter and 79% for NOX.

"The lower limit is the level of ambition that member states should strive for when setting permit conditions," the agency said, emphasizing that they are technically and economically achievable in most cases.

The study noted that fossil fuel-fired power plants, most of them coal- and gas-fired, still generate almost half of all electricity in the EU's 28 member states and release more than half of the total man-made SO2, 15% of NOx and 4% of particulate matter, in addition to other pollutants such as mercury. Previous environmental regulation has already reduced emissions of SO2 and dust from power plants by more than three quarters since 2004, it said.