A “pioneering” scheme using water from flooded mine works to provide low-carbon heat to Gateshead homes and businesses could be replicated in communities across the North East and the wider country, it is hoped.
The mine water heat network in the town is the biggest in Britain and among the largest in Europe, providing heat and hot water to 350 council houses, offices, Gateshead College, and the Baltic Art Centre.
The geothermal energy project is estimated to save 72,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next four decades, by distributing the heat from warm water pumped up from the old Hutton coal seam through a network of pipes around the town centre.
Graham Stuart MP, the minister for energy security and net zero, visited the site on Wednesday and told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Gateshead’s success could be repeated elsewhere to support millions of people living in former mining towns.
Speaking at a Gateshead Energy Company site at the Baltic Business Quarter, he said: “This pioneering project in Gateshead has huge potential across the country. One in four homes in England is over an old coalfield and if we can take this model and drive costs down even further, then we can scale it up and potentially have millions of homes and businesses provided with heat by systems like this.
“That means we can power Britain more from Britain, we can have lower costs for people, and we can make ourselves less dependent on foreign fossil fuels – and with an environmental benefit too.”
The scheme, funded by Gateshead Council and the Government’s Heat Network Investment Project, went live in March 2023 – just three years after it was first conceived – and the Coal Authority says it is “at least 5% cheaper” for households and businesses than gas heating bills.
Mr Stuart added: “It is showing we can take old fossil fuel remnants like coal mines and turn them into green centres of energy. Gateshead Council has been forward-looking and we have been delighted to support them with Government money so that they can turn the heat that is down there in the waters of the coal mine into affordable energy for local people and businesses.”
Data released this week by the Coal Authority and Ordnance Survey shows that six million homes and over 300,000 offices and businesses sit above abandoned coal mines around the UK.
Richard Bond, innovation and engagement director at the Coal Authority said the Gateshead project was “delivering what we were all hoping it would”.
While not all abandoned coal mines will be suitable for such a heat network, Mr Bond said he hoped that the private sector would see the benefits from Gateshead’s scheme and invest in installing the technology elsewhere.
He added: “That is absolutely what we want to see, building into the history of the coal mining infrastructure and taking the legacy of past generations to deliver to future generations.”