Finnish Minister of Transport Merja Kyllonen said allocating money to help develop emissions-reducing technologies would be a "major topic" in intensive, national budget negotiations, which began Wednesday in Helsinki.
The government is working on a "national action plan" to cope with a stringent new EU directive calling for big reductions in sulfur emissions from Baltic Sea shipping beginning in 2015, which Helsinki says will cost Finnish industry up to $750 million per year to comply with.
Under the new directive, after 2015 the fuel sulfur content for any ship plying the Baltic Sea must not exceed 0.10 percent or its exhaust gas must be cleaned to that same level.
Health officials have estimated maritime emissions cause 50,000 premature deaths in the European Union each year.
Kyllonen said "a key approach" in adapting to the requirement is to sink funding into the development of clean technologies to help vessels reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulates.
That approach, she said, could solve three challenges arising from sulfur regulations at once -- making shipping cleaner, creating jobs in the clean tech sector and giving a hand to Finland's shipping industry as it copes with the increased costs.
Currently, shippers have three main options to comply with the new requirement, the Norwegian shipping classification society Det Norske Veritas says -- they can switch to costly low-sulfur fuel, retrofit exhaust systems with filters known as wet scrubbers, or the ships can be fueled by liquefied natural gas.
Using low-sulfur fuel is the easiest way to comply but also the most expensive for ships that regularly ply the Baltic Sea, while the use of LNG is the cleanest way to comply, DNV said. With LNG fuel, sulfur and particle emissions are cut by close to 100 percent and the net greenhouse gas emissions are 15-20 percent lower.
The installation of wet scrubbers may present the best immediate solution because the "scrubber industry is now maturing and reliable systems are entering the market," DNV says.
Kyllonen said Finland's new budget should provide investments "targeted at building environmentally friendly vessels and retrofitting exhaust gas cleaning systems, in particular so-called wet scrubbers, on existing vessels."
Meanwhile, she said, the use LNG and biofuels as marine fuels "are future alternatives that should be considered."
But she added, their wide-scale introduction will take years, "and what we need now is rapid action. My ministry is currently leading an investigation of future energy forms for transport, including various options for shipping."
As the budget talks began, the government was also considering requests from Finnish industry for considerable tax breaks to help compensate it for the costs of the sulfur directive, Helsingin Sanomat reported.
Big exporters such as paper making companies who failed their attempts to derail the EU initiative are now asking for a rollback of fees on the use of sea lanes and the creation of a system for compensation for taxes paid on diesel fuel, the newspaper said.
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