SEPA position statement: carbon capture and storage

Climate change is a global problem which requires global solutions. Fossil fuels will continue to meet a significant proportion of future global energy demand and carbon capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to substantially reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to atmosphere from large point sources such as power plant. The UK and Scottish Governments have committed to maintaining coal as part of the energy mix in both the UK and Scotland: the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) external link outlined this in its framework for clean coal and the Scottish Government has stated that coal will continue to play a role in base load energy generation in Scotland.

The UK Committee on Climate Change external link has emphasised the importance of decarbonising the energy generation sector by 2030 to ensure that the UK and Scottish Government’s target of an 80% reduction in CO2 from 1990 levels by 2050 is not jeopardised. The committee has also stated that conventional coal-fired power generation should only be built on the expectation that it will be retrofitted with CCS equipment external link by the early 2020s.

SEPA supports the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Delivery Plan which sets out the actions that Scotland needs to take to achieve its ambitious targets of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels) of 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. One of the transformational outcomes set out in the delivery plan is to work towards “a largely de-carbonised electricity generation sector by 2030, primarily using renewable sources for electricity generation with other electricity generation from fossil fuelled plants utilising carbon capture and storage”.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) supports the expectation that new build power stations should not be permitted to operate without implementation of suitable CO2 abatement in the future. For the purposes of this document “power stations” refers to thermal power stations fuelled by coal, oil, gas or biomass. To assess whether or not CCS will prove to be a viable method for reducing CO2 emissions to atmosphere, SEPA supports the aim of the UK to deliver four CCS demonstration plants. This will provide an opportunity to develop CCS technology on an operational scale.

What is CCS?

CCS is the capture (from a large point source such as a power station or other industrial installation), transport (by pipeline or ship) and storage (within underground geological formations) of CO2, to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. In order to be effective in climate change mitigation, CO2 must be stored for many hundreds of years, at least until well past the end of the fossil fuel era. It is through avoiding the release of CO2 into the atmosphere that CCS is considered to offer an opportunity to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Further information is available at:

SEPA’s role

SEPA is the statutory body tasked with protecting, enhancing, and reporting on the state of the Scotland’s environment. We do this by regulating activities which can cause pollution and by monitoring the quality of Scotland’s environment, working to enable those we regulate to comply with the legislation. We have an important role to play in considering the potential environmental effects of decisions relating to energy production and supply and, within our remit, contributing to reducing these effects. Raising awareness of environmental problems and solutions is the first step to promoting respect for the environment so we therefore have a clear and important role in educating and encouraging behavioural changes in Scotland’s response to climate change pdf link (1.15mb).

Carbon capture readiness

Article 33 of the 2009 Directive on the Geological Storage of Carbon Dioxide external link amends the Large Combustion Plant Directive 2001 to require that a number of assessments be carried out to determine carbon capture readiness before combustion plants with a capacity of 300 megawatts electrical (MWe) or more can receive development consent. If those assessments show that CCS would potentially be feasible for the site in future, then the directive also requires the necessary development space to be set aside to accommodate future carbon capture plant.

In Scotland the process of demonstrating carbon capture readiness will be undertaken as part of the process of granting development consent under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 external link. The Scottish Government has stated that all new combustion plants (regulated under the Large Combustion Plant Directive) with electrical outputs at, or in excess of, 300 MWe should be consented only if they can be deemed to be capture ready external link. In addition to our usual role as a statutory consultee under Section 36, we advise the Scottish Government on whether carbon capture readiness has been demonstrated.

The Scottish Government’s Section 36 guidance external link provides additional information regarding the preparation of technically feasible plans. Annexes A, B and C provide checklists to guide applicants as to the type of information and level of detail we require to enable verification of plans for carbon capture readiness.

Carbon capture demonstration for new coal-fired power stations

The UK and Scottish Governments have stated that, in addition to undertaking a carbon capture readiness feasibility assessment for the whole of the plant, any applicant seeking consent under Section 36 for a new coal-fired power station is required to submit technically feasible plans for a capture unit covering the minimum size requirement of 300 MWe of the power station. This should include submission of appropriate documentation to demonstrate compliance with all other existing policy including that the entire plant’s capacity is CCR. Applicants proposing to build a new coal-fired power station of less than 300 MWe will be required to submit plans for a capture unit on the power station’s entire capacity. We will advise the Scottish Government on the suitability of the space and the feasibility of the carbon capture plans. Annexes J, K and L of the Section 36 guidance provide checklists to guide applicants on the type of information and level of detail we require to enable verification of the plans as technically feasible for carbon capture.

SEPA regulation of power stations

We play an important role in regulating existing and new power stations.

  • We regulate the operators of energy generation installations under the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) regime. Proposed amendments to legislation make it likely that carbon capture processes will become an activity listed under Schedule 1 of the PPC (Scotland) Regulations 2000 (as amended). Operators must achieve emissions and operational standards and use best available techniques to prevent, or where that is not possible, minimise emissions according to European standards.

  • The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR) require operators of activities likely to have an impact on the water environment to be authorised by SEPA. Such activities include abstractions, impoundments, discharges liable to cause pollution, and engineering activities. Guidance on CAR is available on our website at: www.sepa.org.uk/water/water_regulation.aspx

  • We are a statutory consultee to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted on major planning applications, including applications for consent submitted under the Electricity Act 1989. We engage in the EIA and planning processes at an early stage in order to address potential environmental issues. We have prepared guidance on our interaction with the planning process and on specific environmental issues, including our Interim position statement on planning, energy and climate change and Planning guidance on SEPA-regulated sites and processes.

  • We review air quality management plans and ensure that emissions from regulated installations do not contribute to exceedances of the UK Air Quality Standards.

  • We will provide advice to Scottish Government as to whether a proposed power station has met the requirements of the carbon capture readiness guidance provided by the Scottish Government word link image (1.40mb) in demonstrating that there is adequate space for carbon capture and that there are no barriers to retrofitting carbon capture equipment in the future.

  • In the case of coal-fired power stations, we will provide advice to the Scottish Government as to whether the applicant has submitted technically feasible plans for a carbon capture unit sufficient to cover the minimum size requirement of at least 300MWe net capacity of the power station, and whether the remaining capacity of the power station can also be considered capture ready.

  • We are the competent authority for the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) in Scotland. We issue permits to eligible installations and ensure that operators comply with the system’s operational rules. CO2 captured and stored will be considered as ‘not emitted’ under the EU ETS.

  • Currently CO2 is not classified as a 'dangerous substance’ for the purpose of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (as amended) (COMAH). However, on a precautionary basis, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that early adopters of CCS can best meet their general duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act by applying the principles of COMAH when designing, constructing and operating their capture and compression installations. In Scotland SEPA and the HSE have responsibility for enforcing the COMAH regulations: SEPA is responsible for environmental issues and the HSE for health and safety issues, with each regulator leading in their respective field. SEPA and the HSE consult with each other when both environmental and human health and safety are potentially affected by an installation.

  • The introduction of new chemicals to power stations (such as amines) to enable carbon capture has the potential to bring installations not previously subject to the COMAH regulations within the scope of that regime.

Current implementation

CCS is technologically feasible, and a fully integrated demonstration plant could be built using existing technologies. However, there is currently no example of capture, transport and storage at a suitable scale required for a power plant, or of commercial application of the entire chain of carbon capture, transportation and storage at a commercial scale. To be considered as carbon capture ready a new power station would need to, as a minimum:

  • meet emission limit values at least as rigorous as those required by the Large Combustion Plant Directive’s (LCPD) minimum standards and demonstrate that BATs are used to prevent, or where that is not possible, minimise emissions. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) abatement techniques would need to go beyond the LCPD requirements when capture technology is fitted, because they are acid gases and inhibit CO2 capture;

  • demonstrate that the most efficient combustion and energy recovery technology has been chosen;

  • operate as efficiently as possible. Consideration should be given to exploiting Combined Heat and Power (CHP) potential. Under Article 6 of the LCPD, operators of new plant (or those making substantial changes) should examine the technical and economic feasibility of CHP.

As part of their application for Section 36 consent, applicants will be required to demonstrate:

  • that sufficient space is available on, or near, the site to accommodate carbon capture equipment in the future;

  • the technical feasibility of retrofitting their chosen carbon capture technology;

  • that a suitable area of deep geological formations offshore exists for the storage of captured CO2 from the proposed power station;

  • the technical feasibility of transporting captured CO2 to the proposed storage area;

  • the likelihood that it will be economically feasible within the life time of the power station to link to a full CCS chain, covering retrofitting of capture equipment, transport and storage.

What SEPA would like to see?

We will continue to work with other European regulatory authorities through our involvement in the Network of the Heads of European Environment Protection Agencies (EPA Network). We lead an EPA Network Interest Group on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCSIG). The aims of the CCSIG are:

  • to provide a forum to build on the exchange of information on current and future developments, an opportunity to learn from each other particularly in relation to the development of the regulatory framework and scientific understanding of the issues;

  • to consider where more (environmental, technical and scientific) evidence is required;

  • to provide a resource for pooling knowledge to create educational materials to enable the EPAs to develop reliable information for the public, and to consider our role in improving public awareness and participation;

  • to focus on the core regulatory issues;

  • to connect to various international, national, European Union and Member State domestic issues and provide a forum for sharing information, signposting developments and improving understanding;

  • to provide a forum for considering environmental effects (and potentially any link with human health) and health and safety effects;

  • to provide a forum for pooling information and identifying potential gaps (regulatory and scientific gap analysis).

This position statement will be updated as the regulatory regime develops in Scotland. Particular considerations include:

  • further research and development is required across all aspects of CCS – the HSE is currently considering whether the risks associated with the CCS process are such that it would be beneficial to extend the COMAH regime to CCS projects;

  • the HSE is currently considering whether dense phase/supercritical CO2 would merit from classification as a dangerous substance – interim guidance is available from the HSE website external link;

  • further research is required in relation to geological storage of CO2 – this should include improvements to current assessments of the viability of potential storage areas to support the development of demonstration projects.

SEPA is keen to see demonstration CCS projects rolled-out in Scotland as soon as possible. Such projects will inform our understanding of the economic and technical feasibility of commercial-scale CCS technology.

June 2010