Midlothian coal mines provide solution for low carbon living

Friday September 8th 2023


Jenny Curtis, managing director of Vattenfall Heat UK.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Disused coal mines are being brought back into use as a low carbon alternative to heating thousands of homes in former mining communities.

A new project in Midlothian sees the council join forces with energy firm Vattenfall to create a network of pipes which will draw heat from water in the mines to pump into new housing.

Jenny Curtis, managing director of Vattenfall Heat UK, describes the use of the mines to provide low carbon heating as a “no-brainer”.

And at an event celebrating the latest phase of the work at the National Mining Museum, in Newtongrange, this week she said action to tackle the climate crisis had to be taken in a way which was “low cost and low carbon”.

The energy firm and local authority have joined together to create Midlothian Energy Limited to provide heating initially for the new Shawfair development which will have around 3,000 homes.

The initial phase of the network will supply the homes, education and retail properties at Shawfair Town and will be powered by waste heat from FCC Environment’s Millerhill Recycling and Energy Recovery Centre which will burn tonnes of waste which would otherwise go to landfill to create energy.

As the project expands heat from the mines will also be harnessed to supply more customers including existing homes.

And there are plans to eventually extend the heating network into south Edinburgh and East Lothian with the hope of supplying 30,000 homes from the new heat network in five years.

Jenny told the event at the mining musem: “Currently 85 per cent of domestic properties have gas boilers, that is 26 million gas boilers in the UK.

“We urgently need to take action together to find a low cost, low carbon solution.”

Midlothian’s network of coal mines makes it ideal to create the network of heating from it.

Once coal mines have closed and the pumps are stopped, they fill with water which is heated through natural geothermal processes.

Heat can be transferred from the mine water to clean water in a district heating network to heat local homes and businesses.

Midlothian Energy and Vattenfall Heat UK are working with the Coal Authority to explore using heat from a planned mine water treatment scheme at Dalkeith, one of several pioneering mine water heat projects under consideration in Scotland.

Jenny said: “Without the rapid deployment of heat networks at scale it is simply not possible for Scotland to reach its ambitious net zero by 2045 targets.

“Using waste heat from sources like energy from waste plants and mine workings is a no-brainer.

“The heat is already there, all we need is the urgent deployment of low-carbon heating infrastructure to capture it and supply it to local residents and businesses.

“We are so excited to build on Midlothian’s proud heritage and make the shift to create a low-carbon, clean energy network for the local community, inspiring the next generation into low-carbon, local jobs.”

Midlothian MP Owen Thompson said: “I have been campaigning for years for Midlothian to be at the epicentre of a geothermal revolution in Scotland, so I welcome the news that this project is moving forward. I will do everything I can in both Westminster and my constituency to support the scheme.

“I’ve always maintained that a geothermal revolution can provide clean energy and rehabilitate our former coalfield communities.

“The potential is huge for geothermal energy to provide an indigenous, low-carbon and green alternative for heating homes.

“The time could not be better for this as so many people are gripped by cost-of-living fears.

“Midlothian can lead the way. We have a bright future if we utilise our former coalfield communities and breathe new life into them.

“They have been ripped apart and neglected for too long by Margaret Thatcher and then successive Tory governments.

“I look forward to working with Vattenfall and other key stakeholders to bring the future to Midlothian.”

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