PLANS for a Hampshire district energy network connecting a city’s prison, hospital, university and county council headquarters have taken a major step forward.

The green scheme in Winchester involves pumping hot water and heat through a network of underground pipes to public buildings.

Instead of individual boilers, there would be one central combined heat and power plant.

County chiefs say benefits include reducing carbon emissions by about 30 per cent and cheaper energy bills.

The county council’s Cabinet has approved employing a project manager to develop the business case and set-up an energy services company (ESCo) to run the scheme.

The aim is to get Winchester district energy network (DEN) running within two to three years at an estimated cost of between £4m and £7m.

Future expansion plans may allow housing estates and businesses to be connected.
The move comes at the same time as Tory county chiefs have been criticised for a proposed blanket ban on wind farms on council land.

Plans for a DEN have been welcomed by Winchester Friends of the Earth. Green campaigner Chris Gilham said: “It does not offset the county council’s opposition to wind power but it is a good move.”

A feasibility study was jointly commissioned by the county and city council from consultants Rolton in 2010, followed by a second report from consultants Mace on the technical and financial aspects.

The proposals include a scheme in the west of the city, connecting the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester Prison, and University of Winchester.

And a second “city” scheme focused on the county council’s buildings at the Castle complex, saving up to £90,000 per year.

This city scheme could potentially include Winchester College and city council buildings, including the River Park Leisure Centre.

It has not yet been decided if the DEN should be publicly or privately financed with a partner organisation.

The current proposal is for a gas powered combined heat and power (CHP) plant with back-up boilers.

Renewable energy sources are being considered but officers say practical issues also need to be considered. For example, a biomass boiler would require large quantities of wood chips to be delivered and stored in the city.

Southampton has had a district energy scheme for more than 25 years involving geothermal energy and combined heat and power.

It started in 1986 at a cost of £8m and now provides heating to more than 1,000 homes, large office buildings, a hospital and university.