Former Wearmouth Colliery could get new lease of life from green energy heating scheme

Next steps agreed for major project aiming to harness the former Wearmouth Colliery to heat homes

Friday, 14th January 2022, 10:56 am

Proposals to harness sustainable energy from the former Wearmouth Colliery have taken another step forward.

And if successful, the former pit could soon provide a low carbon means of warming homes, if tests confirm it can support the energy needs of the area.

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At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, January 11, city leaders agreed the next steps for the project, which will see pilot boreholes drilled 600m underground, subject to government funding from the Green Heat Networks Fund Transition Scheme.

Once initial drilling is finished, further studies will determine whether heat extracted from the former mine workings could support new homes planned for the Riverside Sunderland site, as well as elsewhere in the city.

Councillor Claire Rowntree, deputy leader of the council, said the local authority hopes to slash the city’s carbon footprint, in line with its City Plan and Low Carbon Action Plan objectives.

“An application to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Green Heat Networks Fund Transition Scheme for commercialisation funding was submitted.

“Following dialogue with BEIS, there was an emerging funding condition relating to the pilot boreholes which requires a formal quotation to be obtained and submitted prior to the end of this financial year.

“Due to the complex and specialist nature of this procurement exercise, the council intends to further engage the services of the Coal Authority to assist in the work required to discharge the condition.”

Findings from initial borehole drillings are expected to be reported back to the council, which is seeking grants worth £2.2m to fund the project.

Mine source heat networks work by water from flooded mines, compressing it to a higher temperature for distribution to suitable buildings.

It is predicted Sunderland Heat Network scheme could save upwards of 4,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, with South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sunderland among the possible beneficiaries.

If the project, which would use 8.1km of insulated pipes, is deemed viable and ultimately delivered, it is expected to become the UK’s largest geothermal mine source district heat network.

In December 2021, Sunderland City Council’s leader, Cllr Graeme Miller, said local authorities have a “key role to play in making heat networks succeed”.

Cllr Miller added: “Given our focus is on what is best for the city – not just short-term commercial returns – we can ensure that carbon reduction and alleviation of fuel poverty are key drivers in our application of this network, should viability studies show it is an option.”

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