Although still in its early stages, council bosses behind the ‘exciting’ project discussed the potential to use geothermal heat pumps at an overview and scrutiny meeting held at Barnsley Town Hall on Tuesday.
Engineers behind the ambitious proposals told the Chronicle that they believe it is possible to capture residual heat from the water - which is hundreds of feet underground - and have started an 18-month viability scheme.
The heat pumps, they say, can be used to harness energy locked in the water for heating and cooling buildings.
David Malsom, group leader for housing and energy, said: “It’s an exciting project as Barnsley has many abandoned workings that are flooded with water - we believe it’s got legs and this could be fantastic for the borough as it builds on its mining legacy.
“We believe it could be an answer to fuel poverty and it will also create skilled jobs.”
Flooded mine voids can store significant volumes of groundwater, reaching depths of hundreds of metres. The plan is being assessed as a potential solution to Barnsley Council’s strategy to reduce fuel poverty in the town, where 9,700 homes are deemed to be at risk of causing health conditions due to excess cold, damp and mould.
Former mines are located across the borough including at Stairfoot, Worsbrough Bridge, Darfield, Brierley, Mapplewell, Little Houghton, Dodworth, Elsecar, Grimethorpe, Haigh, Royston, Barugh, Hoyland and Darton.
Coal mining was the borough’s main industry, playing a key role in the country’s economy as well as in the communities in the towns and villages surrounding the mines.
When the mines were in operation underground passages had to be kept dry by pumping water out.
When mines closed, the pumping stopped, with most abandoned workings now deemed to be full.
“Basically we’re sat above large reservoirs of a potential resource,” said David. “That water is naturally warm, at about 15C to 20C, and it naturally seeps in so in effect it will top itself up if you take it out.
“It has the potential to be either a low carbon or even a zero carbon scheme but a lot of work has to be done to ascertain where the resources are and where the need for energy is.
“We think there’s a lot of potential - heating up to 300 homes is possible from one mine and the re-using aspect of an important part of Barnsley’s history is something which will resonate with many people.”
Engineers updated councillors on Barnsley Council’s strategy to increase energy efficiency and reduce pollution at Tuesday’s meeting, which is aiming for a zero carbon borough by 2040 - ten years sooner than the government is aiming for nationally.
According to a report, emissions are on a downward spiral, with almost 50,000 tonnes of CO2 being emitted in 2012/13 and under 30,000 in 2017/18, but fuel poverty remains a top priority.
It said: “It is estimated that 10.7 per cent of households in Barnsley were fuel poor in 2017. However, the incidence and causes of fuel poverty varies across the borough.
“Cold homes are a significant cause of demand on NHS services. There is a proven link between cold weather and an increase in numbers of NHS referrals for heart attacks and strokes.
“People who are discharged from hospital into a cold home are three times more likely to be re-admitted back to hospital and many residents also suffer from mental health issues and feelings of isolation.
“It has been estimated that every £1 spent on domestic energy efficiency measures saves the NHS £40.”