Two weeks ago, the Irish Times reported that MoneyPoint regularly breached its IPPC license but failed to inform the EPA. I was waiting for a follow-up article, like “Plant Closed, Chief Engineer Jailed, Company Fined”, but then I realized that I’m in Ireland still.
If a coal-fired boiler runs in steady state, it emits little more than water vapour (white smoke) and carbon dioxide (invisible). However, if it is starting up or winding down, combustion is incomplete and smoke turns black. Black smoke contains a mix of chemicals which not only twist your tongue but also cause respiratory problems, cancer, degenerative diseases, and other mayhem. Such emissions are therefore strictly regulated, and rightly so.
The report and the lack of follow-up is disconcerting for a number of reasons. First, the ESB knew but did not tell the EPA. Second, the EPA got into action after complaints by locals. This does not help against nightly emissions or invisible ones. Third, there were two more incidents after the ESB was audited (and presumably warned) by the EPA. Fourth, there is no sign of remedial or punitive action.
(There is a side issue. Power plants should not do this. The boilers are either in much worse condition than their age suggests, or the engineers in charge are not doing their job as they should.)
Regulation is only as strong as its enforcement. For a plant the size of MoneyPoint, the EPA (and the public) should be able to monitor emissions in real time. We should not rely on voluntary disclosure or complaints. The EPA should have the right to intervene in the running of the plant, and shut it down if necessary. The owners and operators of the plant do not have the right incentives.
IPPC licenses were put in place to please Brussels, but they in fact protect our health and environment.