Norwich’s Generation Park halted, with creditors owed £3m
By Paul Homewood
h/t Dave Ward
For the past year, we have been following the story of Norwich’s proposed straw burning plant at the yet to be built Generation Park.
From the start, the scheme has been the brainchild of the University of East Anglia. As the EDP reported in January last year:
£325m energy plant could be built in Norwich, with supporters claiming it will create hundreds of jobs and put the city at the forefront of tackling climate change.
An artist’s impression of what Generation Park could look like from the proposed new bridge.
But, with the plant likely to need a 55m high chimney and the debacle of the King’s Lynn incinerator still fresh in the mind, those behind the scheme realise they will have to convince the public of its merits.
The University of East Anglia is one of the prime investors in the proposal for the 30 acre Utilities site – a patch of wasteland between Thorpe Hamlet and Whitlingham.
If Generation Park goes ahead, it would create 250 jobs during construction and 500 once complete.
Along with a straw-burning energy plant, it would include 120 new homes, student accommodation, an education centre, a research base, 11 acres of parkland, plus new cycle routes and walkways.
The plant would burn 200,000 tonnes of compressed straw a year to generate electricity. Developers say it would produce the equivalent of power for 88,000 homes.
That would be sold back to the National Grid, or to city businesses, while power firm E.ON would capture steam produced to heat homes and businesses. It is likely to only be new housing developments which would benefit from that ‘district heating’.
Straw pellets would arrive by train about four times a week, with freight timed so it does not interfere with passenger trains.
Professor Trevor Davies, the UEA’s pro-vice chancellor of research, has been promoting such a scheme for more than a decade.
He said: “This will reduce Norwich’s carbon footprint by 22pc and put the city at the forefront of carbon reduction.
“This is a hugely exciting and visionary scheme for Norwich that meets many needs. It delivers clean green energy as electricity, heating and hot water, whilst rejuvenating an eyesore site close to the city centre.”
Following the controversy which surrounded Norfolk County Council’s aborted plans for incinerators at Costessey and King’s Lynn, Prof Davies was keen to highlight the green credentials of this technology.
While it would burn only straw pellets, he conceded the plant would produce a small amount of pollution, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and that the prevailing winds would blow towards Thorpe St Andrew.
Many experts have complained about the adverse environmental impacts, cost and impact on the straw market. Yet both Davies and the UEA’s Keith Tovey have been allowed space regularly in the EDP’s letter columns to extol the project’s virtues, which basically boil down to cutting CO2.
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.
(UEA biomass plant © geograph)
- 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.
Now the EDP is reporting that the whole scheme at Generation Park is to be halted:
Proposals for a £370m energy park on the edge of the city centre have been halted, with the company behind it owing £3m to creditors.
And the University of East Anglia, a member of the company’s board, has set aside £1m to pay back between 50 to 60 investors, who will only get back about a third of what they put in.
Norwich Powerhouse, set up to oversee the creation of Generation Park, between Thorpe St Andrew and Whitlingham, revealed at the end of November it was struggling to secure investment.
The project had been backed by the UEA, which put £2.25m into the project, and energy company E,ON, which had put in £1.4m. But, after the board called in an insolvency practitioner, a Company Voluntary Arrangement has been approved.
Its creditors have agreed to get back 33p for every pound they invested. If an investor comes forward in the future, the project could be resurrected.
It is understood investors had considered putting more in, but the interest has not yet been followed up with actual investment. E.ON is understood to still be considering its next move.
So, for now, the scheme, which was due to include a straw pellet-burning plant, 120 new homes, student accommodation, an education centre, a research base, 11 acres of parkland, plus new cycle routes and walkways, has been shelved.
A spokesman for the UEA confirmed £1m had been set aside to pay investors and that the scheme had been “mothballed”. so it could be revitalised if private investment was forthcoming.
The proposal, with its 90m-tall chimney, had attracted criticism. More than 250 people had objected to the planning application which had been lodged for the scheme.
Campaigners, including from the group Say No To Generation Park had expressed concerns about possible pollution from the plant. Developers had said the height of the chimney would disperse emissions far from the city.
Broadland District councillors, who are being consulted on the plan, last year decided to defer their decision on whether to grant permission, saying they needed more information on the environmental impact of the plume which will come out of the chimney.
Let us be absolutely clear about this. The UEA, but in particular Trevor Davies, have blown a lot of public money on this pet scheme of theirs, based, it seems, on a very weak business case. Indeed, the only purpose the project seems to have had is to satisfy their desire to put the UEA and city at “the forefront of carbon reduction”.
Not only have they wasted taxpayer money, they have also cost creditors a good deal.
There should now be a full investigation by the proper authorities, to decide whether this is a misuse of public money.