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Energy Minister visits projects putting North East at the forefront of Net Zero drive

As the North East is poised to become the UK’s first low carbon heat cluster, the government’s Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility, Lord Callanan, is touring the region to see some of the projects which are leading the way in the nation’s drive to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions.

The visit follows the launch of three nationally significant activities in the region:

  • The first, a report highlighting the potential of mine energy for the UK published on behalf of the BEIS Energy Hub Network – which uses natural geothermal-heated water that has gathered in the underground networks of former deep coal mines – in helping the UK to achieve its Net Zero target by 2050.
  • The second is Gateshead Council’s Zero Carbon Heat Strategy, outlining its ambition to make all Council buildings and homes net zero by 2030, though major investment in heat networks, as well as supporting clean hydrogen and heat pumps.
  • And the third, is the launch of a ‘High Potential Opportunity’ to promote the North East and Tees Valley as an inward investment location for the UK in heat networks.

Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), said: “The North East has an existing skills base, supply chain and infrastructure, plus a nationally-significant project pipeline, which means we are ideally positioned to make a huge contribution to the UK’s drive to achieve Net Zero.

“During today’s visit, we were able to showcase some of the globally-important energy projects which are taking place in our region, and demonstrate how the North East is on its way to becoming the UK’s first cluster for low carbon heat innovation, supply chain and delivery.”

Lord Callanan was able to meet beneficiaries of the Government’s Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP); two mine water heat networks in the region are among those to have been awarded funding by Triple Point Heat Networks Investment Management in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The Minister visited Seaham Garden Village district heat network in County Durham, which will supply low-carbon geothermal heat from former coal mines to a new development to the south of Seaham. It is hoped that the scheme will be a commercially viable sustainable energy demonstrator project that can be duplicated across the UK coalfields, which contain 25% of the UK population.

Energy Minister, and Heat Networks Industry Council Ministerial Champion, Lord Callanan of Low Fell said: “Heating our homes and workspaces without causing carbon emissions is going to be key to tackling climate change and heat networks are proving an effective solution as well as opening up huge potential for investors at home and abroad.“

These low-carbon technologies are allowing us to build back greener from the pandemic, and as the Heat Networks Industry Council’s Ministerial Champion, I’m excited to see the opportunities they are providing in the North-East. “As a native of this region, I’m well aware of how coal dug from under our feet powered the industrial revolution 200 years ago and it’s fitting that that legacy and heat taken from former mines is now helping drive forward a new Green Industrial Revolution.”

Councillor Mark Wilkes, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said: “We’re delighted to be part of the drive towards achieving Net Zero carbon emissions.

“The proposed district heating system at Seaham Garden Village will use ultra-low carbon energy from the former mine workings.  

“The use of this technology could be replicated in other parts of County Durham, the North East region and elsewhere across the UK’s former coalfield sites.” 

Also on the agenda was a visit to the Gateshead District Energy Scheme, which has been awarded funding to double its heat network, using geothermal energy from a network of old mine workings 150 metres below Gateshead to supply heat to homes and businesses. 

John McElroy, cabinet member for the environment and transport at Gateshead Council, said: “Our work on heat networks and harnessing geothermal heat shows our ambition to tackle climate change and reach our zero carbon goal by 2030.

“We already have a significant track record of investment in heat networks, so this is proven technology – now we need to move across to sustainable sources of energy and roll out zero carbon heating to a much wider audience across the borough.”

Ken Hunnisett, Project Director at Triple Point Heat Networks Investment Management said: “These two projects represent the first two mine energy schemes to be awarded HNIP funding and signify genuine levelling up in the North East in preparation for net zero. With mine energy ideally suited to district heating, the ability of our coalfields to provide clean, affordable and perpetually renewing heat should be a source of great national pride.” 

Richard Bond, Innovation and Engagement Director at the Coal Authority, said: “Using heat from former coal mines is an innovative way to decarbonise heating supplies, attract investment, create employment and lower energy bills. The Coal Authority is actively working with a number of partner organisations across the country, including the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, to help unlock the potential of mine water heat to make UK homes greener, warmer and more efficient.”

Also in Gateshead, Lord Callanan joined Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP, Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change who was officially opening Hydrogen House, the UK’s first house to demonstrate the use of hydrogen-fuelled appliances in a real-world setting, at Northern Gas Networks’ Low Thornley site. 

Andrew Clark added: “These projects are not just regionally significant; they’re leading the way for the entire nation and no doubt contributed to Government’s recent decision to select Heat networks in the North East and Tees Valley as part of the Department for International Trade’s High Potential Opportunities Programme (HPO). We now have a completed investment proposition to promote to foreign investors and drive investment into the region.

“We’ll continue to work with government, the energy sector in the North East, and our partners in Tees Valley, to push forward the work taking place in our region which will help the UK cut its carbon emissions and help tackle the issue of climate change.” 

On the High Potential Opportunities Programme, Minister for Investment, Gerry Grimstone said: “Our HPO programme is designed to showcase the best opportunities across the UK to international investors and attract investment that will help the UK build back better.

“Attracting investment into the UK’s clean growth industries like heat networks is critical, and with so many projects in the pipeline and such a fantastic ecosystem, the industry should take note of this huge opportunity. This programme along with the Global Investment Summit we are hosting in October will be a chance to show why the UK is a great place to invest in a greener future.”

Find out about the North East LEP’s work to support the North East energy sector here.