Old mine workings could provide Barnsley with a new ‘green’ energy source, council believes

Barnsley’s long-abandoned deep mine workings could once again provide a vital source of energy for the town, if plans for a radical heat recovery system currently being investigated by council officials proves to be viable.

Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 14:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th July 2019, 13:03 pm
Legacy: Underground workings from pits like Hemingfield Colliery could provide an energy windfall

Instead of the polluting fossil fuel the areas collieries produced in the mining era, experts believe it is now possible to capture residual heat from the water which has flooded the old workings deep below the surface.

Under plans currently being investigated, that could be extracted and used in the same way geo-thermal energy is elsewhere, potentially to provide hot water and electricity in an environmentally-friendly way.

Like ground source and air source heat pumps, which act like a fridge in reverse and draw warm from the ground or air, the only energy needed is to power the equipment and that is far outweighed by the value of the heat generated.

At this stage the project remains at the investigative stage and it is expected to be around 18 months before it is known whether it would be a viable option, but like many former Yorkshire coalfields, Barnsley’s substructure remains riddled with old workings, many very deep below ground where the flood water picks up naturally occurring heat from the earth’s body.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i politics newsletter cut through the noise

It is hoped the scheme could make a significant contribution to Barnsley Council’s own target of becoming a carbon neutral authority by 2040.

Although the authority’s work is responsible for only around two per cent of the town’s carbon output, it is regarded as important that it is at the forefront of work to tackle climate change, acting as an “exemplar” to other bodies, which will also have to change.

Councillors were given details of the proposals during an update on the authority’s performance towards meeting its targets to reduce emissions and housing and energy project manager George Lee told the meeting: “One project we are looking at is whether we can take heat from abandoned mine workings, flooded with water.

“There is a lot of potential to take heat, through a heat exchanger and we are doing work to look at the feasibility of that.

“It could happen in the next 18 months or so.”

Coun Jeff Ennis said: “It is probably appropriate for Barnsley.

“It was built on coal, built on mining and if we could use mines for heat, there would be a certain elegance to that.

“It would be really good if could get some district heating schemes powered by old mine workings.”

Any scheme to tap into old mine workings for power would be a development of the council’s current portfolio of ‘green’ energy schemes, which include minimising energy use in buildings as well as generating power through use of solar panels, biomass and both ground and air source heat pumps.

Some of the schemes have proved frail, however, with “the majority of secondary school installations” suffering mechanical failures for the biomass boilers installed when the town’s network of 11 new comprehensive schools were constructed around a decade ago.

Ground source heat pumps had also proved a disappointment for many tenants at two housing developments in Worsbrough, said Coun Gill Carr.

She reported that 60 per cent of tenants had been dissatisfied with the new equipment, reporting that it failed to keep their homes warm enough and was expensive to operate.

She said: “We have two schemes in Worsbrough and I would say 60 per cent of the tenants are not satisfied with the room temperature and water temperature. The installation is not good enough, the windows are not of the right standard.

“People say it is not warm enough and costs a lot of money. The paperwork in the instructions, you need a degree in engineering to understand it,” she said.

Council staff say problems can be caused by a range of issues, including residents failing to understand differences in the way heating systems relying on ground or air source pumps operate differently.