A ground-breaking renewable energy scheme which will slash annual carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of tonnes has taken another step forward with the appointment of a contractor.
The multi-million-pound project will see geothermal energy drawn from abandoned flooded mines from the former Hebburn Colliery in South Tyneside and used to heat council-owned buildings, including a residential tower block.
Two wells must first be constructed to extract water from the mines. Once drilled, testing will be carried out to ensure the scheme remains fully viable.
South Tyneside Council's Cabinet has appointed specialist drilling company Dunelm Geotechnical and Environmental Ltd to construct the wells and carry out associated ground investigation works, following a competitive tender process.
Cllr Ernest Gibson, Lead Member for Area Management and Community Safety, with responsibility for climate change, said: "We're delighted to invite Dunelm Geotechnical and Environmental to join us on this innovative and exciting project.
"Their appointment is a great start to the new year and another milestone in this scheme, which is already developing well. The drilling works and construction of the wells are likely to start in the spring and finish around autumn.
"Minewater from the wells will feed into an energy centre located above ground and then be distributed via a new pipe network to buildings in Hebburn town centre, providing them with low carbon and sustainable heat.
"As an ex-miner, I feel really proud that our once-thriving mines are being put to use; it's fantastic to think they will be producing energy again - just in a different form.
"This project will use the area's industrial legacy to help safeguard our future in the fight against climate change."
The water will be extracted by drilling vertical boreholes 300-400m into the flooded coal mines underground.
A water source heat pump will extract the heat from the minewater before it is compressed to a much higher temperature and then distributed across the network.
Cooled water will be returned to the mine workings and locally-generated electricity using solar panels and a Combined Heat and Power Unit will be used to help power the system.
James Huntington, Managing Director of Dunelm Geotechnical and Environmental Ltd, said: "Dunelm are extremely excited at the development of this new technology, particularly harnessing a use from our region's historical industrial activities.
"This contract gives the chance for Dunelm to employ conventional drilling techniques to be used in a new and exciting way for the benefit of our communities across the region whilst also helping the council achieve their environmental aims.
"Dunelm's project managers, engineers and drill crews will be working closely with South Tyneside Council to ensure that the project has minimal impact on the local area during the siteworks period."
The scheme, which has secured over £3.9million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund, is being developed in collaboration with the Coal Authority and Durham University.
The council declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and pledged to take all necessary steps to make South Tyneside Council become carbon neutral by 2030. Since then it has developed a climate change strategy with a comprehensive five-year action plan.
Cllr Gibson added: "This scheme is expected to deliver a reduction of 319 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, which will make a significant contribution to our ambition for carbon neutrality and a greener, more sustainable borough.
"It will also help us meet our 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."
Hebburn was extensively mined until mine abandonment in 1932.