University of East Anglia quietly abandons £10.5m biomass scheme

UK’s largest biomass power generation project has been quietly abandoned after having never run for more than 30 minutes.

The £10.5 million (€13.5m) plant, built in 2007 to reduce CO2 emissions at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, was intended to produce renewable electricity from woodchips.

The facility, which received a £1 million grant from the UK government, was at the time praised for its significant environmental benefits.

But a source within the UEA told The Guardian newspaper that the generation unit has never run for more than 30 minutes and that students are using the wood storage facilities to hold Christmas decorations.

Suzanne Jones, a local Norwich campaigner on environmental issues, accused the UEA of trying to sweep the plant’s neglect under the rug.

“UEA has established an international reputation for its leadership in environmental technology, so it’s extremely disappointing that they have tried to hide the failure of their biomass project,” Jones said.

“There has been a complete lack of transparency here.”

The UEA has refused several Freedom of Information Act requests from local activist group The Norwich Radical in the past six months.

The university claim releasing the information “would have a chilling effect on the development of new low-carbon energy projects in future” and a negative impact on the economic interests of the university and commercial partners.

According to UK law, the Freedom of Information Act provides public access to information held by public authorities by obliging them to publish certain information about their activities and allowing citizens to request information from them.

A UEA spokesman told The Guardian that the unit had provided energy, but using gas rather than woodchip.

“It has not been possible to commission the woodchip/gasification component of UEA’s new CHP unit. However, the unit has been supplying both heat and power to the campus since 2008, using natural gas, and the university continues to make a return on its investment.

According to the spokesman, the unit was the university’s sole source of heat and electricity for several months in 2015 while maintenance work in other facilities was undergoing.

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