£40m “green energy” project will be a “game-changer” for Leeds

The Cross Green Incinerator, Leeds.  PICTURE: Simon Hulme
The Cross Green Incinerator, Leeds. PICTURE: Simon Hulme
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A “flagship” heating scheme in Leeds, which will power 22,000 homes through energy harnessed from the Cross Green incinerator, has been signed off by council bosses.

The £40m District Heating Network will supply hot water via a system of “super-insulated” underground pipework. The council will set up its own trading company to sell the energy generated, and will set its own tariffs.

Initial proposals for the project were presented in 2016.

And now, Leeds City Council’s executive board has given the go-ahead for the project, subject to final “due diligence” work on the business case and the approval of a £4m supplementary grant from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

A report to the panel said it was “a unique opportunity for the council to supply low cost, low carbon heat in the form of hot water to households and businesses in Leeds”, and would “provide the city with a flagship green infrastructure asset”.

Funding for the project includes £21m of borrowing. A further £17.4m comes from housing capital funds and the European Regional Development Fund.

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, the council’s cabinet spokeswoman on environment and sustainability issues, said the scheme could be “a considerable game changer in terms of establishing a low carbon heat source” in the city.

She said the project would “harness” heat from the RERF (recycling and energy recovery facility) at Cross Green and the method was already “relatively common in cities across Europe, and closer to home in Sheffield and Nottingham”.

“I think this would go a considerable way in working towards the city’s ambitions around low carbon and addressing fuel poverty,” she said.

Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the opposition Conservative group on Leeds City Council, warned that the “highly ambitious scheme...doesn’t come without significant risk”.

“The history of district heating schemes in this country up until fairly recently has - possibly with a couple of exceptions - not been a happy one,” he said.

“We are required to put in nearly £17m of borrowing, and also £11m of capital through the Housing Revenue Account.

“And yet we have a long way to go before it actually does what we intend it to do.

“Its a multi-million pound project. There is a series of risks here. I am not entirely sure that we are not being over optimistic to put it bluntly.”

Responding to Coun Carter’s concerns, Coun Yeadon said project leaders would “ensure all those risks are looked at and that the business plan is fully there”.

She added there were “a lot of opportunities” to use the heating project infrastructure phase to simultaneously improve other infrastructure such as high-speed broadband access in communities and buildings where it has been problematic.

“Moving forward, local authorities will have to look at ways of generating income,” she said.

“If it works, it could generate income for the future.”