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Tight caps on power firms’ pollution

Last updated: September 17, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Clearer skies, dearer electricity in prospect

Hong Kong’s two power companies have been ordered to reduce emissions of major pollutants by up to 64 per cent in the next five years.

While the measures should improve general air quality, they will do nothing to reduce roadside pollution.

And they could push up power bills. The targets the government has set the companies – CLP Power (SEHK: 0002) and Hongkong Electric (SEHK: 0006) – require much greater use of natural gas, which is dearer than coal.

The companies will be required to raise the share of natural gas used for generation from 39 per cent this year to 52 per cent in 2015. The government said gas prices would determine whether consumers have to pay more for electricity.

The new pollution caps mean overall cuts in emissions of 50 per cent for sulphur dioxide, 35 per cent for nitrogen oxides and 34 per cent for respirable suspended particulate.

All three cause respiratory symptoms and disease and can aggravate conditions such as asthma. Particles can cause more severe problems by lodging in the lungs. Nitrogen oxides can also combine with oxygen to form the pollutant ozone and can cause acid rain.

The Environment Bureau announced the new caps three months before the companies’ deadline for meeting the current targets, set two years ago. According to the latest available figures, for last year, they had only achieved the one for nitrogen oxides.

The companies face fines of HK30,000 for every tonne by which they exceed any of the caps. Fines are doubled for second and subsequent offences and senior executives face up to six months in jail.

Greenpeace campaigner Prentice Koo Wai-muk welcomed the greater use of natural gas in generating electricity but criticised the government for delaying its review of air quality objectives, which should have been completed a few months ago. The current objectives date to 1987.

“With more natural gas [being used], the objectives should be tightened immediately,” he said.

WWF senior campaigner Angus Wong Chun-yin said tighter caps would improve regional air quality but the city needed more measures to mitigate roadside pollution.

In a paper prepared for discussion by the Legislative Council next week, the bureau said it had taken new factors into consideration in setting the caps, which are subject to review after three years.

“To realise the maximum emission reduction potential of the power sector, the distribution of the emission allowances can no longer be made based solely on consideration of the respective share of local electricity generation of the two power companies,” it said.

For the first time, the companies have been set different targets. CLP, which generates a greater proportion of its electricity from gas, will have to reduce its sulphur dioxide output by 64 per cent, whereas Hongkong Electric will have to cut its emissions of the pollutant by only 28 per cent.

A bureau spokesman said CLP had been set a tighter cap on sulphur dioxide emissions since it was not using to the full its existing gas-fired generation units. This was because it could not secure sufficient supplies of gas, but a recently signed memorandum of understanding on energy co-operation with the mainland would enable it to source more gas by 2015. Hongkong Electric had much less scope for increasing natural gas use, the spokesman said.

CLP said in 2006 the reserves in its Yacheng gas field off Hainan were lower than expected and it would have to burn more coal in order to conserve them.

Natural gas accounted for just 24.7 per cent of CLP’s fuel mix last year despite its big gas-fired power station at Black Point.

Hongkong Electric has only two gas-fired units but natural gas made up 30 per cent of its fuel mix this year.

The bureau said it had also looked at the extent to which the companies could switch from coal-fired to natural-gas generation and further reduce emissions through the use of new technology.

A CLP spokeswoman said the company supported moving towards higher air quality standards but compliance could be restricted by other factors such as the lack of timely availability of natural gas. A spokeswoman for Hongkong Electric said the city needed a long-term policy on increasing natural gas usage to assist its negotiations with gas suppliers.

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