by Suzanne Jones

A private company have submitted plans to build a biomass incineration plant in Norwich. This document looks at some of the myths surrounding this development.

Myth 1 – Generation Park is being built ‘for the benefit of the people of Norwich’.

Looking at the so-called ‘Community Energy Centre’ on Generation Park’s website, you might think that this is a ‘not for profit’ development. In fact, its primary purpose is to make money for its investors, mainly ‘anonymous backers’ who will benefit from £M’s of government subsidies, paid for by the taxpayer. Generation Park would receive approximately £34M in annual subsidies alone.

Myth 2 – Generation Park is being developed by the University of East Anglia.

The Generation Park proposals are being submitted by a company called Norwich (NPH) LLP whose board members include professional investors and business people like Sir Nicholas Hickman Ponsonby Bacon. Sir Nicholas is England’s ‘premier baronet’ with interests and directorships in over 40 other companies. Norwich (NPH) LLP are themselves part of a chain of overlapping companies ultimately controlled by Norwich Powerhouse LLP.

Myth 3 – Generation Park will produce cheap heating for local businesses and houses.

In order to supply local homes and businesses the power station would need to have a district local heating network in place and direct cabling to the businesses they intend to supply with electricity. No such networks currently exist and there are no guarantees they will ever be built. Where similar schemes have been looked at elsewhere in the country, the cost of implementing the infrastructure is often found to be prohibitive. This is the reason there are hardly any district heating schemes currently operating in the UK.

UEA themselves attempted to introduce such a scheme in 2009 with the aid of £1M in government subsidies. The plan was that a small incinerator would provide the heating for the university campus. To date it has never worked as envisaged and in the winter of 2013 UEA had to buy in electricity from the national grid to keep their students warm.

Myth 4 – Generation Park will make Norwich self-sufficient in electricity.

It is a misconception to say Generation Park would make Norwich self-sufficient in electricity. Only a few large, local businesses will receive power directly from the plant. The rest of the electricity will be sold to the national grid.

Myth 5 – Generation Park will create a lot of new jobs in Norwich.

Once built, the biomass incinerator will create about 30 new jobs, which is roughly the same as a new restaurant opening in Norwich. The difference is that for each of the new jobs created at the incinerator the government will pay the developers over £1M in taxpayer funded subsidies.

Myth 6 – The power station is just a part of the Generation Park development, which will also include houses, student accommodation, research facilities, new footbridge and cycle paths.

Although the Generation Park plans include some of these additional features, there is no guarantee they will be built. Generation Park have confirmed that the power station comes first and that the proposals to build homes etc on this site, are secondary and would only be considered once the incinerator was in place.

Myth 7 – Emissions from Generation Park will be strictly monitored by independent, external bodies like Norwich City Council and the Environment Agency.

Just like coal, biomass incineration produces emissions, some of which are harmful to human health. But, unlike coal emissions which are subject to strict external and independent monitoring, at Generation Park there will only be self-monitoring, because the rules have been relaxed for renewable fuels. So, in effect, the polluters will be monitoring themselves.

(Generation Park, Norwich

Myth 8 – Generation Park’s biomass incinerator will be good for the planet because it will produce fewer greenhouse gases.

In fact, burning biomass fuels can produce more CO2 than coal. It is only when you factor in the District Heating Network that the balance tips the other way, and only then, if you believe Generation Park’s decidedly optimistic efficiency projections. And the District Heating Network may never be built. Greenhouse gases from UEA’s own biomass incinerator have actually increased year on year.

In comparison to energy sources other than coal, (e.g. renewables like solar, wave, wind, or even finite resources like natural gas) biomass is far higher in CO2 emissions.

Myth 9 – Generation Park will not create any problems for Norwich residents.

In addition to the harmful air emissions which will affect everyone living in Norwich, local residents will see an increase in traffic and noise pollution. The experiences of local communities elsewhere in the country where biomass incinerators have been built suggest that the developers underplay the extent of these impacts. For example, at Markinch in Fife the operators have been forced to build fencing around their biomass plant, at a cost of £100k in an attempt to limit the noise after numerous complaints from local residents.

Myth 10 – Generation Park will never be turned into a waste incinerator.

Generation Park have sought to give many assurances that they do not intend to use the incinerator to burn household or industrial waste, and that the proposed licenses, and incineration technology would make this impossible. But licenses can be changed, technology can be modified and the incinerator sold to new operators.

Government subsidies may be reduced in the future, and the operator forced to look at diversifying into other areas. Generation Park has already indicated at the Public Residents Meeting that they could introduce fuel sources other than straw. Should the plant prove uneconomic in the future there is no doubt that burning household waste could be a highly profitable activity.

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