Plan to use former Wearmouth Colliery to heat city homes and businesses moves forward

A scheme that could see the former Wearmouth Colliery become the UK’s largest mine water heat network, generating heat for hundreds of nearby homes and businesses, has taken a key step forward.

Global engineering consultancy WSP has submitted a planning application on behalf of Sunderland City Council to start work on an exploratory pilot scheme.

If approved by the council’s planning committee in April, the pilot will investigate whether the abandoned mine workings can be accessed by borehole drilling.

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The location of the boreholes has been guided by work undertaken by the Coal Authority for the council.

Wearmouth Colliery

70 per cent carbon saving against mains gas

If viable, Sunderland could become home to the UK's largest geothermal mine water source district heat network – a major milestone in achieving the council's ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030 and the city's target of being carbon neutral by 2040.

It is estimated the scheme could save upwards of 4,100t of CO2e a year, a 70 per cent carbon saving against mains gas, and create jobs and opportunities for the city.

Council leader Coun Graeme Miller said: “If planning is granted and the viability studies bear fruit, then this could be a transformational project for the city.

“We have made a clear commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2040 and projects such as this will be key to helping us achieve our goals.”

The test site uses the former Fan Zone next to the Stadium of Light, which has not been used since 2019, as well as a small section of ground surrounding the stadium, with site hoardings and safety measures to reduce disruption to the club and match-goers.

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If the project gets the green light, WSP will have a drilling window of July 2023 to April 2024 to conduct their studies.

“We have worked with WSP and the football club to ensure that the works cause as little disruption as possible to the match day experience and that the fall outside of the concerts period to ensure the safest possible environment to conduct the tests,” said Coun Miller.

‘An excellent candidate for a low carbon heat network’

“The drilling of pilot boreholes to further explore the potential of heat recovery fr

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"We know the city has assets that we can explore to deliver more sustainable energy, and if this proves a success, then there’s no reason why we can’t explore similar concepts at former mineworks across the city.”

WSP project director Dominic Bowers added: “With numerous potential sources of low carbon heat and major heat consumers within a relatively compact area, Sunderland is an excellent candidate for a low carbon heat network.

“The drilling of pilot boreholes to further explore the potential of heat recovery from flooded mine workings beneath the city represents a significant milestone for all involved. WSP looks forward to continuing its work with Sunderland City Council on this exciting project.”

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Gareth Farr, head of heat and by-product innovation at the Coal Authority said: "Local authorities like Sunderland City Council are leading the way by considering the warm mine water within mines beneath towns and cities to provide low carbon space heating as part of their ambitious heat network project.

"Heat stored within mines provides a low-carbon, locally sourced heat opportunity which has great potential for many coalfield communities across Britain.”