David Ronn at Auckland Castle
Jamie Hardesty

Auckland Castle in hot pursuit of £3.5 million geothermal energy project

Bishop Auckland-based heritage company, Auckland Castle Trust, is planning a £3.5 million project to extract geothermal energy from beneath the town.

Bishop Auckland has been identified as a prime site to deliver the renewable energy source, which would initially be used to heat medieval Auckland Castle but, if the project is especially successful, could also benefit businesses and residents in the town.

The project will be funded by the Auckland Castle Trust with the initial stage expected to cost £2.5m and a further £1m to be spent should the findings prove conclusive and the scheme get the final go-ahead from Durham County Council.

A planning application to drill two exploratory boreholes up to 1.8km (1.11 miles) deep on the northern boundary of the town is being prepared for submission to the council.

If approved, and if the investigatory boreholes prove successful, further proposals will be drawn-up to create a network of pipes to take the heat to the grade I listed castle.

This means that it would be the first historic building of its kind in the UK to take advantage of this type of environmentally friendly energy.

A feasibility study conducted by UK-based Cluff Geothermal has already indicated that this part of Bishop Auckland is likely to be sitting on an underground reservoir of water at 70C (158F).

The initial test boreholes will be sunk on land owned by Durham County Council next to the North Bondgate short stay car park in the centre of Bishop Auckland.

The Auckland Castle Trust is in negotiation with Durham County Council over a long term lease for the site, where a drilling rig 30m (100ft) high is set to operate 24 hours a day for around three months during the initial test stage.

Any potential noise impact will be limited as this area is mainly given over to commercial use, and the Auckland Castle Trust is keen not to inconvenience anyone who lives or works nearby.

If all goes to plan a small geothermal pumping station the size of five car parking spaces would then be built and the pipes laid to take the hot water to Auckland Castle.

Businesses in the area would also be given the chance to buy into the scheme if it proves to be successful.

Auckland Castle Trust’s chief executive, David Ronn, said: “This is an extremely exciting and innovative scheme that has the potential to provide not only long-term benefits for Auckland Castle but the town of Bishop Auckland too.

“It would help the sustainability of Auckland Castle as a visitor attraction with the added bonus that competitively priced heat could be offered to other businesses in the north of the town if the drilling is successful.

“This project is all about clean energy, reducing heating costs and cutting CO2 emissions with no adverse environmental or other lasting impacts.

“Jobs will also be created in the area during the construction phase.

“This is an exciting chance to explore the potential of a valuable natural and sustainable resource which could create large and lasting benefits for the castle and the town.”

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