Background to the Directive
The Medium Combustion Plant Directive 2015/2193 (MCP) was developed as a result of research carried out under the Clean Air Package, which determined that there were measures that could be taken in a cost-effective way, that would reduce the pollution generated from medium combustion plants. Prior to 2015, legislation regulating emissions from combustion plants was limited to large and small combustion plants, by way of the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU and the Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC respectively, leaving a regulatory gap for any plants not falling within the scope of these two Directives.
The goal of the Clean Air Package is to minimise the air pollutants across Europe. It sets out objectives to improve air quality and the environment by 2030, which will have subsequent effects on human health. The MCP Directive lays down rules to control air emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dust particles from medium combustion plants (MCPs), as well as rules to monitor carbon monoxide (CO) emissions from these plants.
MCPs are plants which range in thermal input size from 1 megawatt to 50 megawatts and can be involved in activities such as electricity generation, industrial process heating and commercial heating and cooling systems. As there are over 140,000 medium combustion plants across the EU generating hazardous substances and sending them into the atmosphere, it is hoped that the new regulatory measures, in conjunction with the existing ones, will have substantial further impact in the long term.
The MCP Directive in a nutshell
The Directive stipulates that there must be a register, provided by the national competent authority, which is available to the public, with information on each MCP, detailing the fuel variety used and expected number of operating hours per annum.
Emission limit values are set out by fuel category, distinguishing also between new and existing plants. The limit values apply from the 20th of December 2018 for new plants and by 2025 or 2030 for existing plants, depending on their size. The Directive does not apply to certain combustion plants, including coke battery furnaces, gas turbines and engines used offshore, reactors used in the chemical industry. It does not apply to plants already covered by other EU legislation regulating their emissions.
The Directive also does not apply to ancillary research, development and testing activities.
What the Directive means for MCP operators
- all new medium combustion plants that will begin operation after the 19th of December 2018, will have to have a permit or be registered;
- existing plants with a rated thermal input or capacity greater than 5 megawatt (MW) must have a permit or be registered by the 1st of January 2024;
- all existing plants with a rated thermal input less than or equal to 5 MW must have a permit or be registered by the 1st of January 2029;
- operators of plants must monitor their emissions and keep a record, for at least 6 years, of the results of emission monitoring, of operating hours, type and quantities of fuel used and details of any malfunction or breakdown.
While the MCP Directive was passed in 2015, MCPs will not effectively be governed by it until December 2018. This means that planned MCPs beginning operation in or after December have a final opportunity over the coming months to come into compliance with its provisions.
Many EU member states have already transposed the Directive into national law. In Ireland, it has been transposed by way of the European Union (Medium Combustion Plants) Regulations 2017. As well as bringing all of the provisions of the EU Directive into Irish law; these regulations designate the competent authority in Ireland as the Environmental Protection Agency and make it mandatory for combustion plants operating in the state with a rated thermal input equal to or greater than 1 MW and less than 50 MW, regardless of the fuel that they use, to register. The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 transpose the MCP Directive into English and Welsh law. The amendments made by Part 2 of these Regulations provide that no MCP brought into operation after the 20th of December 2018 without a permit.