The University of East Anglia has admitted that a £10.5-million wood chip-fuelled power and heating plant it announced with great fanfare in 2007 has never worked.
The university opened the combined heat and power plant in 2008 with more than £1 million in UK government subsidies. But according to a source inside the university, The Guardian reports, “the biomass unit has never run for more than 30 minutes,” and the area where wood chips were to be stockpiled is “now being used to store Christmas decorations.”
The power station was meant to cut the university’s carbon emissions by one-third. However, “it has not been possible to commission the wood chip/gasification component” of the plant, a University spokesman admitted, so the unit has burned natural gas to heat and power the campus since 2008.
The university had rebuffed earlier questions about the project’s fate, claiming it wished to avoid “a chilling effect on the development of new low-carbon energy projects in future.” Even when such wood-biomass energy plants perform to expectations, however, there are questions around the assumption that they qualify as clean energy, with the carbon in their combustion emissions theoretically withdrawn from the atmosphere by regrowing forests.
Nonetheless, European demand for wood biomass is booming, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, driving up exports of compressed wood pellets from both the United States and Canada.