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Coal mines that have lain dormant for more than 80 years in North East England are set to be given a new lease of life thanks to an ambitious renewable energy scheme expected to cut hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Plans for a £7m district heating scheme are set to tap geothermal energy from the flooded underground pits and passages of the former Hebburn Colliery, to heat buildings owned by South Tyneside Council, in whose borough the town of Hebburn and its colliery are located.

Detailed planning for the Hebburn minewater project is continuing and the council have made a number of key external contractor appointments over recent months.  The appointments include the main scheme designer, the borehole designer as well as the project manager, who will lead the project through to completion, which is expected in 2023.

The scheme is expected to deliver a reduction of 319 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, which will make it a key component in the drive to make South Tyneside council carbon neutral by 2030.  It will also help it to meet its obligations to upgrade the energy performance of fuel-poor homes, as it will be used to heat one of the town’s residential high-rise blocks.  The minewater heating system will be powered entirely by clean energy, using solar panels.

The council explained that water will be extracted from the flooded mines through drilled vertical boreholes of up to 300 metres in depth. Pilot boreholes will soon be made in order to establish the project’s feasibility and inform the designs.

A water-source heat pump installed at the project’s energy centre, likely to be in Hebburn town centre, will then extract the heat from the mine water and compress it to a much higher temperature before distributing it across the district heat network. Cooled water will then be returned to the mine workings.

The project, which has preliminary approval for £3.5m in funding from the European Regional Development Fund, is being developed with the Coal Authority and Durham University.

Many of our readers who have a marine background will be well aware of Hebburn and its proud industrial heritage associated with shipbuilding and ship repair; marine engineering; Pyrotenax MICC fireproof cable and Reyrolle Electrical Engineers both of whom exported their products, knowledge and expertise all over the world, for many decades.

On a personal note, Carl Johnson, Solar Solve’s long serving and totally committed Operations Manager, has lived in Hebburn all of his life. He served his apprenticeship at Reyrolle and worked there until he joined South Shields based Solar Solve almost 20 years ago.  The headquarters is only 3 miles from his home and Carl tells us Hebburn is fast becoming a commuter town for people who work in Gateshead and Newcastle, particularly with new houses being built on a mix of brown and green field sites.

There are around 300 new builds going up now on the former Reyrolle Test station site, while work is just starting on around 120 new builds on the site of the old Hebburn Council offices building and old swimming pool. While on the other hand a big new estate (300 + houses) has just finished on a green field site, which was Lawson’s farm and the area where Carl grew up.  It is very close to the site of the old Monkton coke works and people of a certain age will no doubt remember the big high chimney that could be seen for miles.

Finally, I found on the Internet the following appropriate comment about the Hebburn Heating Scheme that was titled

Electrek’s Take.

Oh, how I love adaptive reuse. Especially when you take something like a dirty, old coal mine and turn it into a green source of energy. England’s northeast was dependent on coal for a long time, and the region was hit hard by the loss of jobs as mines closed. So to take old mines and turn them into sources of clean energy will only benefit the region both economically and environmentally.

John Lightfoot MBE, Solar Solve Chairman