‘Generation Park’ is a proposal to build a biomass incinerator in the heart of Norwich which is being fronted by Professor Trevor Davies, of UEA. This isn’t the first biomass development Prof. Davies has been involved in. In 2009 he was the leading light in a project to construct a wood-burning incinerator that would provide power and heat for the UEA itself.
In assessing the suitability of the Generation Park proposals for Norwich, it might be instructive to know how successful or otherwise Prof. Davies’ biomass plant at UEA has been.
- The plant cost £10M to build including a £1M DEFRA subsidy, and was designed to make UEA self-sufficient in power and heat.
- After spending five years trying to get the wood-burner to work it has now completely failed and has had to be converted to natural gas.
- During this time, the burner produced toxic ash that was deposited on the campus, at one point causing the Environment Agency to intervene.
- Over the period the wood-burner was in operation, 2009-2013, emissions of CO2 actually went up. No figures are available for 2014. This increase is the more remarkable, given that the wood-burner was never working at anything near full capacity.
- The performance of the wood-burner was so inadequate that, during the winter of 2013/14, significant amounts of electricity had to be purchased from the national grid to ‘keep the lights on’.
- The overall inefficiency of this installation when burning wood is highlighted by the fact that the conversion to natural gas has resulted in a five times increase in energy output.
- Perhaps most worryingly of all, UEA themselves, and Prof. Davies in particular, have provided no information on the ultimate failure of their biomass experiment. Indeed, UEA’s website still proudly proclaims it a success.
- UEA’s environmental report for 2014 has not yet appeared, and there is talk of a culture of secrecy and denial surrounding the incinerator. This looks, from the outside very much like an attempt to cover up their embarrassment and avoid the inevitably negative implications for the Generation Park proposals.
Based on the evidence from UEA’s wood-burning experiment, biomass incineration would seem to be an unreliable, inefficient and potentially dangerous way of trying to produce energy. And yet Prof. Davies now wants to apply the same approach for the whole of Norwich.
Scaling up failure can only mean a bigger biomess.