£2.2m bid for project to heat Sunderland homes and businesses using water from former Wearmouth Colliery

Council chiefs have agreed to submit a bid for Government funding to develop a project with the potential to harness green energy from old mine workings to heat city buildings.

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 5:39 pm
Wearmouth Colliery
Wearmouth Colliery

The £2.22 million grant – which is being applied for by Sunderland City Council – will pave the way for further studies to understand whether geothermal heat could be extracted from the former Wearmouth Colliery.

Subject to funding and the scheme being deemed viable, the green energy from mine water could be used to heat new homes being developed at Riverside Sunderland, as well as other buildings across the city.

Earlier this week, the council’s cabinet agreed to submit a Heat Networks Investment Project grant application to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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Artist impression of Riverside Sunderland housing

This is linked to the next stages of the project and the delivery of Sunderland’s Heat Network.

Council chiefs say the project, if successful, would be a major milestone in achieving the local authority’s ambitions of becoming a carbon neutral organisation by 2030, as well as reducing the city’s wider carbon footprint.

Councillor Claire Rowntree, deputy leader of the council, told a cabinet meeting: “In parallel, mine source heat has been explored with the Coal Authority, desktop studies conclude that there is excellent potential to take heat from the former Wearmouth Colliery.

“The recent outline business case concludes there is a potentially viable city centre mine source heat network with Riverside Sunderland and the new footbridge providing the opportunity to serve both north and south of the River Wear.

Wearmouth Colliery

“The outline business case does however also conclude the scheme is only likely to be viable as a public sector-delivered scheme.”

She added: “An implemented scheme would save the city upwards of 4,100 tonnes of carbon equivalent per annum, for context this is equal to over half the council’s direct estate.

“This project will be a real milestone and true marker of the city’s low carbon ambitions.”

Cllr Rowntree said discussions had been held with several potential customers of the proposed heat network, including Sunderland Royal Hospital, the University of Sunderland and the City Hall at Riverside Sunderland, as well as some existing city centre residential premises.

The next stage of development would get the scheme ready for delivery and includes drilling boreholes to prove the mine source heat and preparations to bring an operator on board, with a total cost of up to £2.22 million.

The application to the Government is for 100% grant funding for this and is based on what is currently known about Government funding regimes for heat networks.

Delivery of the scheme is also dependent on a number of factors, including securing external funding, proving the mine source heat through drilling boreholes and successfully proving the flow rates and temperature of the water, securing customers to make the scheme financially viable and the Government bringing forward new policies in favour of low carbon heat.

Following discussion, the council’s cabinet agreed to continue project development, to continue dialogue with potential customers and to submit the grant application to the Government.

As part of the ‘commercialisation stage,’ the council’s project team will develop a full business case.

Cllr Rowntree added that the final decision on whether to proceed with the heat network scheme would be anticipated in late-2022, when more detail and reports would be brought forward.

The deputy council leader went on to say: “The historic importance of the city’s mining and industrial heritage cannot be overlooked in terms of its relevance to the project.

“This proud heritage is held in living memory as a true whole circle story here.

“The work undertaken by miners that once helped Sunderland prosper in a carbonised economy can go on to de-carbonise our economy and help the city prosper again, with Sunderland once again being a world leader in celebrating our heritage.”

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