Energy company RWEnpower, the subsidiary of German energy giant RWE, likes to portray itself as green. RWE runs big budget advertising campaigns in Europe highlighting small model projects with green credentials. It claims to be leader with its slogan “RWE - the energy to lead”. But, in truth, RWE keeps pushing to keep its dirty coal and oil plants open.
RWE has been lobbying over two key pieces of EU legislation – the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) and the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), that supersedes the LCPD and which was passed by the European Parliament in July 2010. Both Directives are concerned with reducing key industrial pollutants, such as sulphur and nitrous oxides, although they indirectly impact carbon dioxide emissions too.
In the UK RWE lobbied to secure an extension to two ageing oil fired power stations under the LCPD. Although the directive reduces emissions of sulphur, nitrogen and particulates, RWE had tried to claim it “undermines the flexibility” of electricity supply whilst providing “no environmental benefit.”
They warned that Britain could face blackouts by 2015 if the closure of the plants was not delayed – claiming that the UK lacked generating capacity. However the question of a potential energy gap was disputed – while in Brussels the UK government supported RWE’s arguments, it denied the risk of an energy gap in UK media.
That campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, but RWE also focused on the IED, working with UK lobby groups such as the Association of Electricity Producers (AEP), and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to push UK politicians to relax proposed pollution controls keeping fossil fuel power stations open.
Such was the industry’s success at getting what they wanted that the head of the AEP, David Porter went from calling the IED “a scary example of bad regulation” in 2008, to saying in July 2010, that he was “content” with the Directive.
RWE also worked with energy suppliers and lobby groups in Europe to postpone the pollution controls. One event in the European Parliament, for example, asked MEPs whether the Directive review was designed to “curb industrial emissions or EU industry?”
After the intense lobbying by UK energy companies, the EU backed down on its plans. Under the Directive, coal-fired power plants can avoid having to cut emissions if they promise to shut down altogether by the end of 2023, much later than originally proposed. Even plants staying open were given three extra years to comply. This means the companies can keep their highly polluting “cash cows” running instead of investing in cleaner energy.
German liberal politician Holger Krahmer, who represented the European Parliament in the negotiations, described the opt-outs for coal-fired power plants as a “European tragedy”.