Electric company to pay £21,000 for release of F-gas

Schneider Electric Ltd has today (Fri 1 April) been fined £3,000 for failing to recover a greenhouse gas that was released to the air at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex in 2013.

Basildon Magistrates’ Court also ordered the company to pay £18,368 costs.

The case concerned the release of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) gas from high voltage switchgear (HVSG) (a circuit breaker) being installed at London Gateway Port.

Following installation, part of the system – busbars (a metallic strip or bar that conducts electricity and joins two circuit breakers together) – were found to be faulty and needed to be removed from within the circuit breaker.

During that operation to remove the busbars up to 15kg of SF6 was released.

Ms Rooma Horeesorun, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said the highly potent fluorinated greenhouse gas (F-gas) will remain in the atmosphere for many generations.

To put this in context 15kg of this gas damages the environment the equivalent of flying a 737 jet from Heathrow to Sydney Australia and back 3 times.

The Court was informed that Schneider Electric (SE) was sub-contracted by the principal contractor at the London Gateway Port project to install the switching gear. After installation, Schneider filled and pressurised the circuit breaker chambers with SF6 gas. Subsequently they discovered that the busbars were faulty and needed to be removed for modification.

Schneider used its subcontractor, Metricab Power Engineering Ltd, to remove the busbars. Metricab was not informed, and did not realise, that the switchgear had been filled with the SF6 gas. Consequently when the work was done on 10 June 2013 the SF6 gas was not recovered using F-gas qualified engineers (as required by the law) and was released to the earth’s atmosphere.

Schneider Electric reported the release to the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive.

Ms Horeesorun told magistrates that Schneider Electric Ltd did not generate any documents such as method statements or risk assessments in relation to SF6. Nor did it review the method statement and risk assessment prepared by Metricab which made no mention of SF6 for the removal of the busbars on 10 June 2013.

The gas was released for 1-2 hours before an employee of Schneider Electric realised what was happening and raised the alarm. The site was evacuated safely.

Telford-based Schneider Electric is a global company and leaders in the market for energy management.

After the hearing, investigating Officer Claire Cox said:

This is an important result for the Environment Agency. This successful conviction demonstrates our commitment to ensuring compliance across all F-gas users and industries covered by these regulations.

This particular case displays the long term environmental harm caused to the atmosphere which is likely to continue beyond our lifetime and for many generations to come.

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