Reduction in SO2 emissions relative to the prior year
Reduction in NOx emissions relative to the prior year
Severe environmental incidents
Significant ongoing disagreements with local communities regarding environmental issues1
Fostering understanding, building trust
The energy world is complex, dynamic, and sometimes contradictory. People need energy yet often oppose the construction of the necessary assets. It matters little whether the asset is a new wind farm or a new coal-fired power station. “Not in my backyard” is a common attitude in many developed countries. The situation is different in emerging countries where people’s desire for economic development and a better standard of living is coupled with mounting concerns about air and water quality.
Earning and maintaining the trust of our stakeholders, particularly of people who live near our assets, is paramount for us as an energy provider. We listen to them, strive to understand their concerns, and work with them to minimize adverse impacts of our business activities. We also make sure they understand the purpose of our business activities and the value we create for local economies and for society as a whole: in Europe, we help ensure supply security and foster the transition toward a low-carbon future. Outside Europe, we support the development of energy markets by means of our own generation activities and our services for other companies and communities.
That’s why we defined long-term commitments for the topic of local acceptance:
- Actively engage with our stakeholders to ensure transparency and ongoing dialog about our activities.
- Minimize the impact on communities affected by our operations.
These commitments support SDG 8 and 9:
The material topic Local Acceptance encompasses four subtopics: stakeholder engagement, air emissions, biodiversity, and employee engagement.
Our Stakeholder Management policy stipulates how we interact with stakeholders. It defines our objectives for internal and external communications and assigns roles and responsibilities. The dialog formats vary, ranging from information stands at trade fairs and public forums for residents who live near our assets to discussions with community representatives and local interest groups. The purpose of these forums is to promote open discussions and to enable us to learn more about local stakeholders’ views and concerns.
Dialog doesn’t resolve all differences. Sometimes disputes lead to litigation and require more time to be resolved. For example, diverging standpoints exist regarding our new coal-fired power station in Datteln, Germany, and our biomass power station in Provence, France. We held discussions with regional stakeholders and drew on the results to move the projects forward.
Datteln 4, one of the world’s most technologically advanced coal-fired power plants, is located in western Germany and has been under construction since 2007. When completed, the flexible and highly efficient plant will provide 25% of the German railway system’s power, steam and compressed air to industrial customers, and heat to around 100,000 households.
Throughout planning and construction, we held roundtable discussions with regional stakeholders several times a year. Differing views, interests, concerns, and points of contention were addressed openly and fairly. We drew on the results as the project moved forward and published them in press releases, newsletters, and on our website. Governmental authorizations to build and operate the plant were opposed on several occasions.
We’re currently converting Provence 4, a 150 MW generating unit in southern France, to co-firing biomass (wood chips). The purpose is to reduce its fuel costs and carbon intensity. The wood chips will come partly from French forests. This has met with fierce opposition from communities in the region. Several environmental NGOs believe that sourcing wood chips from French forests is not sustainable.
The local Administrative Court revoked Provence 4’s environmental permit in June 2017, citing insufficient due diligence disclosure on our biomass supply chain in France and internationally. We obtained an interim environmental permit which allowed us to move forward with commissioning the unit. In parallel, we’re working to maintain the dialog with local stakeholders and to ensure that we procure fuel responsibly. Initially, for example, half of the wood chips will be imported. Although our procurement will gradually shift to regional sources in subsequent years, it will still only represent a tiny fraction of the harvestable forests of the Provence area. Moreover, a large portion of the wood chips will come from tree trimmings collected in gardens and parks and from other ecologically sound sources.
The environmental performance of our assets significantly affects not only our operating efficiency and market position but also local perceptions. Air emissions are an important topic for local stakeholders. In 2017 we further reduced these emissions.
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) results primarily from the combustion of sulphurous coal. Flue-gas desulfurization equipment captures 90 percent of our SO2 emissions and prevents them from entering the atmosphere. We emitted 20.6 kilotons (kt) of SO2 in 2017, just under 1.4 kt less than in 2016, mainly because our coal-fired power stations generated less power (primarily in the United Kingdom and Russia).
Most nitrous oxides (NOx) are produced from the reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during combustion at high temperatures. Our gas- and coal-fired power stations emit NOx, the majority coming from our power stations in Russia. In 2017 these emissions declined by just over 6 kt year on year to 60.6 kt, likewise mainly because our coal-fired power stations operated less.
Despite being equipped with extensive filters, coal-fired power stations emit dust. Our dust (or particulate) emissions in 2017 declined year on year, from about to 2 kt (2016) to 1.8 kt. Particles with a diameter of at most 10 microns are classified as dust. Due to the upcoming implementation of BREF, we will need new tools for gathering data on our emissions of particles, including those with a diameter of less than 0.1 microns.
BREF: reducing the emissions of fossil-fueled power plants
In mid-August 2017 the European Union adopted new emission standards that power plants must meet by 2021. The review examined what emission levels could be achieved by each type of power plant using the best available techniques (BAT). The review’s findings were published in a BAT Reference Document (BREF). Uniper played an active role in the review process, providing detailed performance data from some of our power plants and lending our expertise to the policy debate.
Many of our plants already meet BREF emission thresholds. Over the next four years, however, we may need to make investments to reduce the emissions of others. Much will depend on how individual countries transpose BREF into national law. We’ve established a project to coordinate compliance with BREF across our operations and to lobby on BREF’s transposition into national emission regulations.
We recognize that our operations have the potential to impact biodiversity, directly and indirectly. We strive to minimize any risks our operations pose to biodiversity by complying with applicable laws and regulations and by managing our assets carefully.
For example, as part of acquiring permission to operate a plant, we would:
- compile relevant biodiversity data, assess the impact of our planned activities and implement management controls to minimise any impact on biodiversity;
- consult with local and national conservation agencies
In the normal course of our operations, we:
- protect and, if possible, enhance the ecological value of the land around our assets
- educate our staff and contractors on the importance of protecting and enhancing biodiversity.
Responsible biomass procurement
Some of our coal-fired generating units, such as Maasvlakte 3 in the Netherlands, can co-fire biomass. Co-firing can reduce a unit’s carbon intensity significantly because the emissions from biomass combustion are climate-neutral. But biomass fuel can also adversely affect biodiversity depending on how the biomass was cultivated.
Although we don’t plan to enlarge our biomass portfolio in the years ahead, we can benefit from the experience gathered at Provence 4 and can market our technical expertise in fuel conversion to other companies worldwide.
With biomass trading becoming a bigger part of our business, we’re reviewing our procurement policies. One key finding is that we need to listen more carefully to local concerns about biomass. We also need to avoid deforestation and not procure wood from forests that aren’t managed sustainably. In addition, our review will answer questions such as whether we should conduct biomass procurement centrally (and if so, how) and what standards for sustainable forest management we should apply when selecting suppliers.
The review, which we’d planned to complete in 2017, is taking longer than anticipated. So far we’ve defined general recommendations. We now expect to complete the review in 2018.
Hydropower in dialog
We operate 110 hydroelectric stations along more than 1,000 kilometers of the Lech, Isar, Danube, and Main rivers in southeast Germany and one on Lake Eder. We operate 68 in Sweden, from Lycksele in the North to Kristianstad in the South, making us the country’s third-largest hydropower producer.
We have a responsibility to operate hydroelectric stations safely, economically, and in a way that minimizes their impact on the environment, water levels, the landscape, and biodiversity. We work closely with stakeholders ranging from political leaders (mayors, county commissioners, members of parliament) to nature conservation associations and other NGOs. We engage stakeholders in several dialog formats: regional “Hydropower in Dialog” conferences held annually or every two years, information events for public officials, and public forums.
The “Better Hydro: Compendium of Case Studies 2017” was a collaboration between the International Hydropower Association and the World Bank Group to document and showcase hydropower sustainability. The publication includes a case study on innovative solutions at our pumped-story hydro plant in Walchensee, Germany, that benefit nearby communities and wildlife.
In October 2017 Uniper received a court permit to build a fish ladder on the upper Faxälven River near Bergögrenen, Sweden. It will enable fish swim to upstream past hydro plants and other obstacles during migration. It’s the second of three planned for the area. Together, they will open more than 150 kilometers of the river to fish migration. Work will begin soon, and the fish ladder will be completed in the fall of 2018.
The ladders will significantly improve biodiversity but won’t hamper our operations. The idea for placing them at these locations came from a local angling enthusiast. After a dialog with stakeholders, we decided to install them. The response from nearby communities has been positive.
In 2017 Uniper and eight other hydropower companies in Sweden voluntarily established the Hydropower Environmental Fund, which will invest €1 billion over the next 20 years to reduce the environmental impact of hydropower and to improve the aquatic environment. This will enable hydropower to continue to be a mainstay of Sweden’s supply security as the country moves toward its goals of 100% renewable energy by 2040 and zero carbon emissions by 2045.
Torbjörn Tärnhuvud, Head of our hydropower operations in Sweden
Hydropower is crucial for supply reliability as Sweden adds more wind and solar. But even though hydropower is practically zero carbon, it affects the environment. We therefore need to find a balance between environmental impact and the security that hydropower provides to the energy system. The hydropower industry needs to share the responsibility for funding environmental-protection efforts, such as restoring fish habitats and pumping water into dry riverbeds.
Our employees actively support charitable causes. For example, our employees in Germany can choose to donate money from their monthly salary. The money collected in this initiative is donated to selected charities, and employees can submit suggestions for where the donations should go.
Our employees have initiated several other charitable programs. In Germany, for instance, they started a partnership with Diakonie Düsseldorf to support charitable organizations involved in providing complementary social services. In 2017 the focus was on services for children, senior citizens, and homeless women. Our employees in the United Kingdom organized soccer tournaments for young people and cooking contests to raise money for charities.
As in many countries, cultural heritage and social responsibility are very important in Russia. Unipro, our subsidiary there, is committed to doing its part. That’s why it supports the Russian Composers’ Heritage Revival Project, whose purpose is to revive the music of unjustly neglected composers and to restore sheet music and books. In 2017 the project focused on Alexander Mossolov (1900-1973), a highly gifted avant-garde composer. With Unipro’s support, his music was performed in Moscow in September 2017 and will be performed at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn in September 2018.
1The disagreements refer to our coal-fired power station in Datteln, Germany, and our biomass power station in Provence, France.