Power supplier blames lack of quality coal for rise in harmful emissions Hong Kong's largest power supplier emitted more key pollutants last year after turning to 'dirtier' coal to generate electricity. Despite using more natural gas and less coal overall, the use of poorer-quality coal meant CLP Power's three local generation plants emitted more than 53,000 tonnes of sulfur dioxide and 2,000 tonnes of particulates - up 5 and 18 per cent respectively over 2003, its latest environment report reveals. It used 13 per cent less coal in 2004 than the previous year. Not all pollutants increased, however. CLP also achieved a 38 per cent reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxides thanks to a new anti-pollution device. CLP said the increase in SO? emissions was caused by burning coal with higher sulfur and ash content. It used to burn coal with sulfur content of around 0.3 and 0.5 per cent - the legal requirement is less than 1 per cent. Last year, Hong Kong experienced its worst ever air quality and visibility, with the air pollution index in Tung Chung reaching a record high of 201 in September. The power sector generally contributes up to 89 per cent of the city's SO? emissions. Sulfur dioxide is an irritant gas that can narrow the airways. The gas can also mix with other particles and gases in the air to form a potent cocktail that can be harmful to the health. The power group's environmental performance came under the spotlight in 2003 when its SO? emissions rose by almost 90 per cent after it burnt more coal as a result of reduced supplies of natural gas from its reserve in Hainan. A spokeswoman for CLP Holdings said the company could still meet the 1 per cent legal limit of sulfur content in coal, although details on the sulfur-content of the coal being used were not yet available. She also said CLP had to source dirtier coal because of shortages of clean coal amid fierce competition last year. To counter this, CLP increased its gas intake by 44 per cent and cut the use of coal. 'There was pressure on coal prices too but that was not our key consideration. The main reason was that it was difficult to source low sulfur content coal,' she said. Up to 80 per cent of coal came from Indonesia, with the rest from China and other countries. The poor-quality coal also yielded 44 per cent more ash - 364,000 tonnes - last year, the highest in five years. Part of the ash was dumped in an ash lake next to its facility. To improve its emissions, CLP has submitted a multibillion-dollar plan for a flue gas desulfurisation device and a liquefied natural gas terminal to ensure a stable gas supply. The company is also negotiating with the government on its regulatory regime, which will affect its environmental investment. Earlier, Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung vowed to impose emission caps on major pollutants released by the power plants. A government source said yesterday that CLP had met the statutory specification of coal quality for electricity generation, but the government hoped the company could speed up anti-pollution plans. Gloria Chang Wan-ki, climate campaigner for Greenpeace, said CLP would resolve the air pollution issue until it developed renewable energy and phased out its coal-driven generators. '[Otherwise], it will always be subject to changing fuel market forces and never solve its pollution problem,' she said.