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University press ahead with onsite power plant: Project has faced opposition from staff and students

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The Transformer power plant.

The University of Sheffield have acknowledged "concerns" about a new onsite power plant, but insist that its construction is essential for research projects.

Euphemistically named the 'Transformer', the project will see a small gas-burning combined heat and power unit built near the Arts Tower which will release a small amount of emissions.

"When making decisions about energy, we need to look at how we can ensure we have the secure supply of heating and electricity that we need for research while also considering our ambitions around sustainability," a University spokesperson told Now Then.

The Transformer goes against all pledges to sustainability and in the face of the climate crisis it is unacceptable

"These decisions can be challenging and, following a careful review of our current research needs, it was agreed that a gas-fired combined heat and power unit is the most efficient way to maintain the heating supply and temperature needed for vital research projects."

The project has faced significant opposition from staff and students including eight student societies and members of the UCU union, who say that the project "directly contradicts" the University's commitment to divest from fossil fuels.

"As a place of science and learning, the University needs to be leading the way in efforts towards sustainability, and to try to protect all its students' futures," said student Saskia Mak-Pearce.

"The Transformer goes against all pledges to sustainability and in the face of the climate crisis it is unacceptable. I am ashamed of my uni, and worried for my future."

Student society UoS Clean Energy Switch have demanded that the power plant be decommissioned except as a backup as soon as possible, and say that the project has been "hidden in the dark."

"The University has shown that it is capable of making grand statements to cheering crowds at the youth strike but they are currently failing to take real action," said Extinction Rebellion member and student Nathan Strathdee.

"The construction of a new fossil fuel power station shows a complete disregard for their students' futures."

We look forward to working with students, academics and partners as we develop our sustainability strategy

In 2015 the University announced that it would divest from fossil fuels completely, a process which it says it completed in April 2019.

The University told Now Then that the construction of the Transformer complies with the divestment policy, as the new plant is built and owned by the University itself.

"We want our students to know that we are listening to concerns and we remain absolutely committed to urgently reducing our use of fossil fuels," said the spokesperson.

"We look forward to working with students, academics and partners as we develop our sustainability strategy, explore clean energy technologies and progress towards carbon neutrality."

Sam Gregory

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Student members of UoS Clean Energy Switch.

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