Councillor Michael Jones, Leader of Cheshire East Council explains how geothermal energy will help to secure the Borough’s economic future
The British Geological Survey has identified Cheshire East as one of only 6 areas in the UK with the potential to generate huge amounts of energy from deep geothermal heat.
So it is only right that Cheshire East Council is at the forefront of discussions with potential partners to develop ways to turn this potential into a source of long-term, renewable energy.
It is estimated that geothermal reserves in the Cheshire Basin hold around 4.6 million gigawatt-hours (GWh) of zero-carbon, low-cost energy, more than 6 times the national heat demand of Britain.
There could be potential to generate 100 gigawatt-hours a year within a 2.5km radius of Leighton West in Crewe, which has been identified as an ideal site to bring hot water to the surface.
To give an idea of the scale of this energy source, it is enough to provide every UK resident with a daily shower for 142 years.
Geothermal energy is a key project in the Council’s recently published Energy Framework, which will contribute to its vision of delivering affordable, renewable and decentralised energy and creating new energy businesses.
The benefits to residents will be competitive energy prices from renewable sources and a resilient, low-carbon, decentralised energy network.
The prize is huge and so is the up-front cost. The first phase of the geothermal project will require a £37m investment to drill down 4.5km to the hot water.
This money would come from private sector investment, revenue from heat sales and renewable heat incentive funding.
Despite the scale of the challenge, there has been a lot of interest from a range of international companies including the utility market, the geothermal development sector and from institutional investors.
We are excited by the level of market interest and this has encouraged us to look in more detail at the feasibility of this project.
We have signed a partnership agreement with Keele University, just over the border in Staffordshire, to carry out major research backed by an £88,000 government grant.
The Council is contributing to a Natural Environmental Research Council-funded PhD studentship at Keele which will enable a talented graduate to analyse Cheshire East’s geothermal potential and work out the best way to release the energy.
This work – alongside other projects in our Energy Framework – puts Cheshire East at the forefront of research into new sources of renewable, low-cost energy. With the help of a grant from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), we are carrying out a feasibility study into how we can attract private sector investment into district heating schemes in urban areas of Crewe. We are also looking at other projects to tackle energy poverty in rural areas.
The geothermal project is only one part of our efforts to innovate. The way forward is through low-carbon technologies, local energy solutions and self-sufficiency. Our approach demonstrates the flexibility, innovation and teamwork that we are bringing to bear in order to realise our ambitions.
I am determined to eradicate fuel poverty within the borough and this is not just a vague policy objective. We have taken concrete steps to achieve it by becoming the first local authority to become a direct supplier of gas and electricity to the public since the markets were nationalised in 1947.
With our partners OVO Energy, we launched Fairerpower, a domestic energy supplier, in March this year. Within 3 weeks we had signed up 1,000 customers and saved them an average of £250 each. Energy is a fundamental need, essential for the welfare of our residents and for the success of our economy. I believe that the approach we are taking in Cheshire East is the right one. By taking a lead and bringing in partners who can move these projects forward, we will make a huge contribution towards securing the economic future of the Borough’s residents and businesses.
Councillor Michael Jones
Cheshire East Council