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Report Reveals UEA Biomass Blunders

December 13, 2016

By Paul Homewood


h/t Dave Ward




I have been reporting about the University of East Anglia’s disastrous biomass project for a year or so now.

Now a confidential report into the UEA’s failings has been released, revealing just how poor the project’s management was.

The report was written in 2014, but the University attempted to suppress it. They refused a FOI request by campaigner, Suzanne Jones, but were finally ordered to publish it after she complained to the information commissioner.


From the EDP:


And the highly critical independent report into a project, which had been hailed as key to cut the UEA’s carbon emissions, but was never run continuously and was abandoned in 2014, stated:

• The UEA was “driven” by a need to meet a timescale to qualify for a DEFRA grant and bypassed normal procedures

• Decision making was driven by time and cost, rarely by risk

• There was “a lack of due diligence” around the scheme

Flashback to 2008, when the UEA's then vice chancellor Bill MacMillan laid the foundations of the biomass plant. Picture: James Bass.

Flashback to 2008, when the UEA’s then vice chancellor Bill MacMillan laid the foundations of the biomass plant. Picture: James Bass.


• There was no proper “feasibility study” or recognition of “untried technology” as a constraint within the brief for the project

• The panel was sceptical about whether the engineers had appropriate knowledge and experience of gasifiers to successfully undertake the project

The biomass plant – which would have seen woodchip used to produce power – was announced in 2007. Contractor Refgas was picked and the technology seen as key to reducing carbon emissions at the UEA, while increasing the amount of electricity generated on campus.

However, despite £10.5m being spent on capital costs alone, the gasification process in the scheme never worked as intended.

And a Freedom Of Information request has shed new light on the project, unearthing a report into the troubled scheme by Adapt Commercial Ltd.

The request was submitted by Suzanne Jones, who has campaigned against the £370m Generation Park near Thorpe St Andrew, also backed by the UEA.

That scheme was withdrawn this year, but Prof Trevor Davies – a former pro-vice chancellor for research, enterprise and engagement at UEA, who was also involved in the biomass plant project – has said he is keen to revive it in the future.

The UEA initially refused to release the 2014 report, but, after Mrs Jones complained to the information commissioner, the institution was ordered to provide it.

The report states that, while there was “logic” behind the UEA’s decision to select a biogas gasification plant, on the advice of an independent consultant, the technology was new and “unproven”.

The report said: “Once the decision was taken, the estates team appear to have been driven by a need to meet a timescale to qualify for a DEFRA grant.

“The estates team seem to have struggled to find a proven technology at scale, but were introduced to Refgas, who convinced them that their design would work.

“With time pressing and due diligence on Refgas incomplete, the standard procurement and contracting processes were bypassed.

“The panel believe this was driven by pressure to ensure the project went forward and to qualify for the DEFRA grant”.

The report said that time and cost, and “rarely, if ever, risk” played the key roles in decision making. It states that it was “inappropriate” for the decision to buy the biomass plant to be based on the lowest cost and that it appeared “proper procurement procedures were overridden by the need to secure a £1m DEFRA grant”.

The panel made a string of recommendations for the future, particularly around risks and concluded: “In the case of the gasifier project, it would appear the university cannot say it was fully informed of the risks (and it should have been on a project of this size)”.


In most organisations heads would roll for this. But this is the UEA we are talking about here, who would, as in the past, much rather cover things up.

  1. December 13, 2016 12:44 pm

    Interesting but not surprising that these poltroons tried to avoid publication of the report detailing their incompetence. Plainly, took a leaf out of the BBC’s book!

    • Curious George permalink
      December 13, 2016 4:51 pm

      Time to reduce carbon emissions from the UEA to an exact zero.

  2. A C Osborn permalink
    December 13, 2016 12:48 pm

    These people could never, ever hack it in Industry, which is why they remain in Academia, where as you say, their mistakes do not cost them their jobs.

    • Gus permalink
      December 13, 2016 5:38 pm

      Those than can, do; those that can’t, teach.

      • John McDougall permalink
        December 18, 2016 11:13 am

        …and those who cannot teach, go into politics. Politics … showbiz for ugly people!

  3. Dung permalink
    December 13, 2016 12:54 pm

    They advise the world on fighting climate change but when push came to shove, they could not produce a single Mw of electricity for themselves ^.^
    Please take note Teresa.

  4. Adrian permalink
    December 13, 2016 1:00 pm

    I really can’t see how it’s failed, there’s endless crap coming out of CRU they could burn in it.

  5. Paul R permalink
    December 13, 2016 1:31 pm

    Paul, somewhat o/t, but the Beeb is having something of a push on cr*p renewables at the moment – see this for what we have to put up with in Wales.

    It’s worth scrolling through to find a clear articulation of the rationale behind smart meters – “To maximise the benefits they will have to change their habits – like using the washing machine or dishwasher after it has been raining and the hydro is running at full pelt, for example”. An eloquent silence on what happens when the hydro is a trickle!

    • December 13, 2016 4:44 pm

      Concern about the environment is a smokescreen, the real concern at Big Green HQ is that the gravy train is riding poorly laid track, there is something of a panic in Australia that recent blackouts may derail the train, panic in the UK is more about Brexit and Trump.

  6. Joe Public permalink
    December 13, 2016 1:33 pm

    Perhaps that fiasco should be used as a Case Study at a business school?

    BTW – I just love your final barb, Paul!

  7. December 13, 2016 1:40 pm

    More waste on so called renewables and wood chips a fantastic con under the carbon myth. Everyday now more comes to light such as giving away £275 mill to the Climate fund when nobody knows what for. This is criminal neglect when in the same week we hear the vulnerable will be left with no heating and will freeze to death when we run out of power.

  8. December 13, 2016 1:53 pm

    UEA was laughingly know as the University of Easy Access. Perhaps from now on it should be known as the University of Endless Asses. I’m sure others could come up with better names.

  9. December 13, 2016 1:59 pm

    Is it not illuminating to see those who continually tell us they care about the little people are the first to step up and declare that the said little people must be miserable and/or dead by their hands?

  10. Coeur de Lion permalink
    December 13, 2016 2:06 pm

    I think k we should watch this ‘smart meter’ thing very carefully. It’s touted as a palliative to renewables intermittency, so presumably hikes prices when there’s no wind. So you can turn off the underfloor heating etc. Citizens’s rights would require that the meter rings a bell or sounds a siren before it does this. Think grannies in cold dark rooms. Is this the way it’s going? If so, sharpen the pitchforks.

    • EricHa permalink
      December 13, 2016 2:42 pm

      Smart meters are also touted as a way to change providers easily to get a cheaper deal but different suppliers use different meters and none of them meet the required specification. So if you change supplier you have to go back to reading the meter yourself as the ‘smart’ doesn’t work. This means that the 3.3m meters already installed are useless and will need to be replaced again.
      The network which is being built by Capita DCC isn’t ready and probably won’t be until 2020 and when it is it will not talk to the meters already installed. If it does get to the point where it is sort of working it will be so insecure that hackers could easily bring down the grid and the whole country could be without power.

      Lots of info here

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        December 13, 2016 3:23 pm

        Eric: Some friends and I were discussing this the other day. I was told that if a customer of EON decided to up sticks and move to British Gas then the smart meter installed by EON would no longer be any use reporting usage stats to BG. A new meter would be required.

      • John Ellyssen permalink
        December 14, 2016 6:41 pm

        We asked for a meter that could be re-programmed to allow transfer to a new provider with authentication protocols on both meter and receiver. We were literally laughed at.

    • December 13, 2016 4:52 pm

      Australian experience with smart meter fascism:

  11. Dung permalink
    December 13, 2016 2:25 pm

    I am happy to watch a smart meter as long as it is in someone else’s house hehe 🙂

  12. jim permalink
    December 13, 2016 2:26 pm

    Coeur, how could you hear the electric Bell, if the power was cut?

    • Gerry, England permalink
      December 13, 2016 3:10 pm

      What you need is a battery storage system. Or a tank of water in the roof with a valve that opens when the power is cut and lets the water flow drive a little turbine generator. No dafter then our government’s electricity policy.

      • HotScot permalink
        December 13, 2016 6:19 pm

        You qualify for the Heath Robinson prize for innovation 🙂

      • Dave Ward permalink
        December 13, 2016 8:40 pm

        “Or a tank of water in the roof with a valve that opens when the power is cut and lets the water flow drive a little turbine generator”

        Which would (probably) run your telly for a couple of minutes!

  13. December 13, 2016 2:46 pm

    Another interesting green boondoggle:

    The £800M waste reprocessing plant at Courtauld Road in Basildon Essex.

    It was supposed to officially open this year after being in a commissioning phase since November 2014. But the website hasn’t been updated since 2015. Instead there have been 3 fire incidents this year and local residents protesting about the stink and flies.

    On the site’s flick channel it looks more like Google headquarters with a visitor centre and education suite for brainwashing children.

    One suspects this is another example of an ill conceived project rushed through at great expense without proper scrutiny in the name of saving the planet from global warming.

    • December 13, 2016 8:16 pm

      Running but dirty :
      Protest- waste plant making their children sick 22 Aug 2016
      “RESIDENTS of a Basildon caravan park are fed up of the smell, noise and ‘hundreds of flies’ that are ruining their lives because of the nearby waste plant.

      The homeowners of Hovefields Park say they were promised that the new waste plant would barely effect them, but claim their lives have been turned upside down.

      The £800 million waste treatment plant along Courtauld Road, Basildon, has now been in operation for around 18 months”

  14. December 13, 2016 3:05 pm

    Muppets Waldorf & Satler have the measure of these total buffoons…..

  15. Gerry, England permalink
    December 13, 2016 3:11 pm

    They should be forced to refund the taxpayer for wasting this money. Too bad if it bankrupts the UEA – not as if it will be missed.

  16. outtheback permalink
    December 13, 2016 3:21 pm

    Recent research suggests that there is a correlation between the rise of feminism and temperature. Models are being set up to study this further.
    Apparently as women are now liberated and belch and fart more, previously a domain mainly reserved for men, increasing levels of climate changing gases are released into the atmosphere.

  17. Ross King permalink
    December 13, 2016 5:34 pm

    Nota bene the ‘gag’ stint they tried to pull … so much for Intellectual Honesty …. but silencing Inconvenient Truths is their stock-in-trade, isn’t it?

  18. December 13, 2016 8:08 pm

    There is enough material for a great documentary here, the sort the Panarama team would love, oh wait a minute…

  19. December 13, 2016 8:41 pm

    Suzanne Jones released a blogpost on Norwich Radical 2 days before EDP story.

  20. Athelstan permalink
    December 14, 2016 7:02 pm

    I don’t suppose for a minute the North Hicksfordshire plod are interested in this blatant embezzlement of public funds – no?

    Crikey, north oikshire sweeny plod…………….they were so keen to find out just who was the ‘mole’ in the CRU email releases?!

    when is a crime, not a crime?

    • Ross King permalink
      December 15, 2016 12:40 am

      Ahem …. I wd respectfully point-out that yr post is gobble-de-gook to those of us (privileged?) not to live in N. Hicks.
      And, in furtherance, to yr second sentence, WTF are you talking about?
      “Always state the obvious!” as my Finance Professor used to say!
      I suspect you have a much bigger argumentation to adduce … FFS, adduce it in terms that an audience of thousands can comprehend.

      • Athelstan permalink
        December 15, 2016 8:12 am

        to all those of the hard of hearing.

        The report said that time and cost, and “rarely, if ever, risk” played the key roles in decision making. It states that it was “inappropriate” for the decision to buy the biomass plant to be based on the lowest cost and that it appeared “proper procurement procedures were overridden by the need to secure a £1m DEFRA grant”.

        Again and my emphasis “proper procurement procedures were overridden by the need to secure a £1m DEFRA grant”

        Impropriety, whadda ya think?

        Now then, when the truth is outed.

        Old bill see no problem in spending a considerable sum on a politically inspired wild goose chase to hunting down some TRUTH TELLING ‘hacker’.

        CONTRAST with:

        No action on what amounts to attempts at public fraud on a pretty eye watering scale and notwithstanding that, whole shebang is a charade – the CRU, is an arm of state propaganda.

        Compare and contrast.

        Who knows how things work in post modern Britain, certainly not me……… but what can be absolutely evinced is, that, in the quite overt waste, malfeasance and sheer incompetence is jaw dropping from a central and local government always in financial crises and scweaming for “more, if only we had more!” Thus, in the approbation of funds, the public are being robbed blind on all and whatsoever anything to do with – the green agenda and everything else besides – our government and its layabout, corrupt apparatchiks can lays its sticky paws on.

        It also seems rather clear to me and many others [though not all], that, there is one law for some and another law for the proles.

      • Ross King permalink
        December 15, 2016 6:17 pm

        Many tks for the elaboration.
        We live in a Post-Truth World where tax-paying proles are feeding the savvy, scheming porkers at the trough.

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