The dangers of allowing “security to be compromised by sustainability” – referred to in Jeremy Wilcox’s column this month, see p 11 – are perhaps nowhere more acute than in Poland, with its 95% dependence on indigenous coal for power generation.

Jerzy Janikowski of power utility Tauron Polska Energia described the “Polish predicament” in no uncertain terms at Modern Power Systems’ recent conference on power plant emissions reduction, EXPPERTS 2008, held in Brussels, 7-9 October. He noted that while “Polish security of supply is currently fully guaranteed” (particularly advantageous when oil and gas are used as “foreign policy instruments” and their prices highly volatile), the Polish power sector suffers from what he called an “extreme susceptibility…to all European Union regulations restricting air quality standards.”

The European Commission’s Climate Package as currently formulated poses a threat to Poland’s energy security, economic development and quality of life, Jerzy Janikowski argued, with probable “paralysis” of the power generation sector and huge economic impacts – amounting, one study has indicated, to 7.5% of GDP in 2020 and 15% in 2030, with power prices “117% higher” by 2020.

And that’s just the effect of the currently proposed Climate Package with its implications for carbon dioxide, which, as Mr Janikowski reminded us, Poland has reduced by 32% between 1988 and 2005.

Tighter regulation of the “conventional” pollutants (SOx, NOx and particulates), through the LCPD, IPPC and other directives – currently in the process of being recast into a much clearer but much more stringent set of targets – poses a significant additional burden, even though Poland has also already achieved substantial reductions in these too since 1990, while electricity production has remained broadly constant (as demonstrated in the Tauron presentation).

But it is not just the likes of coal-dependent EU accession countries that will be facing serious challenges meeting emissions requirements for the conventional pollutants in the coming years. The problems of dealing with SOx, NOx and rocks are also going to be greatly exacerbated for everyone by the demands of post combustion scrubbing systems for carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a point very tellingly made by Bob Hilton of Alstom at the EXPPERTS conference. He observed that “everything ends up in the CCS system” and current capture processes are very sensitive to what he called these “primary pollutants.” So even though substantial emissions reductions have already been achieved, it is not good enough for CCS and we “need to push the limits” aiming for “flue gas with single digit ppm levels of all pollutants” and “mercury at undetectable levels.” In other words we need improvements of an order of magnitude or more.

All this means that there is going to be plenty to do in the coming years for those in the power plant pollution control business.