Dan Norris, the Mayor of the West of England, has pledged funding to explore the potential use of old, flooded coal mines as a source of clean thermal energy.

Norris last week announced plans to launch a £1.6m ($2.04m) Heat from Mines study, backed by the UK’s Coal Authority and cultural government body Historic England, to explore whether disused mines in the region can be repurposed as a clean energy source to heat homes.

There are more than 100 coal mines in and around the Somerset Coalfield and South Gloucestershire areas in the West of England where coal was mined  from the 15th century through to 1973, when the last pit was closed.

Almost a quarter of the region’s homes now sit above these inactive coal mines, which are now flooded with water. Proposals suggest that by using heat pumps, the water, which has been naturally warmed by the earth, could heat homes across the west.

Norris says there is the potential to heat more than 100,000 homes as well as other buildings such as schools, hospitals and offices.

Through detailed ground investigations, the study will map the mine areas that have the greatest potential as a heat resource.

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Gareth Farr, head of heat at the Coal Authority, said: “The Coal Authority is committed to facilitating mine water heat networks across Great Britain. We hope that the industrial heritage of coal mining in the West of England… will also be able to support mine water heat networks in the future.”

Norris described the repurposing of coal mines, which used to produce the most polluting fossil fuel, for clean energy as coming “full circle”.

He said: “The synergy is fantastic that mines that contributed to CO₂ emissions could now hold the key to clean, green energy. Generating homegrown energy also gives us the chance of cheaper bills, new high-paid jobs and energy security from tyrants like Putin.

“Heat from mines has national, and possibly global, implications too. With many millions of people living above former coalfields right across the country, the potential for mine water heat could be huge… The climate crisis is the biggest challenge we face as a region, as a nation and world. This is a real opportunity to explore an innovative way to heat our homes.”

The new study builds on a similar investigative project announced in March last year, as part of a larger £60m investment in green technology from the West of England Combined Authority, the region’s local council.

An initial study into the potential disused coal mines in the region might have for clean energy was commissioned in July 2022 by the Coal Authority. Similar government-backed projects have also begun in the east of the UK.