Rugeley, an old coal power station at Staffordshire, is set to be transformed into a “sustainable village” of 2,000 homes powered by solar panels. It is one of the biggest redevelopment yet of a former UK power plant.
The French energy firm Engie, said that it had decided not to sell off the Rugeley site in Staffordshire and would rather build super efficient houses on the 139-hectare site as part of its bid to “move beyond energy”. The firm plans to build around 2,000 super efficient homes that will be powered by solar panels on the Staffordshire site.
In an interview with “The Guardian”, Wilfrid Petrie, Engie UK’s chief executive, said: “We are positioning ourselves as going beyond energy into place-making. It’s an example of us closing down our coal power plant and, instead of selling off the land, we’ve decided to regenerate it ourselves.” When asked about Engie’s future plans, Petrie said: “There’s a list of similar sites, which we are looking at. It’s not in the hundreds, but there are several”.
Rugeley stopped generating electricity in the summer of 2016 and is one of several coal plants to close in recent years due to economic pressures and environmental regulations. Now there are only seven operational coal power stations left in the UK, but the government has set a deadline of 2025 for all of those to stop operations.
As some energy companies are hoping to build gas plants on or adjacent to the old coal sites, others will have to be decommissioned for other uses. Engie on the other hand is planning for 10 megawatts of solar capacity in total, equivalent to one of the UK’s smaller solar farms.
About 50% of the energy required by the new homes will be derived from green sources, predominantly solar energy. The power will be generated from the solar panels that are to be fitted on rooftops, in a field and even floating on a lake. The company will set up batteries across the expanse of the site, both in homes and at a communal power storage facility, to balance out electricity supply and demand.
The firm has also gone a step further and is claiming that the homes will be efficient enough that it will use nearly a third less energy than average new builds. The heating will come not from gas boilers but electric devices such as heat pumps.
Peter Atherton, who is an analyst at Cornwall Insight said, “Putting local electricity generation at the heart of new housing projects was almost becoming a prerequisite for developers to get through planning. It is the way of the future. There is no doubt large scale housing developments going forward are going to have some form of local generation because it is the entire craze”.
It is estimated that around 30% of the Rugeley project will be classified affordable homes, though it is not clear how much the green energy measures and high building standards will add to the upfront cost of the properties.
It is also proposed that regeneration firm Harworth is planning to turn the 97-hectare of the brown field site in Shropshire of a former power station into a development of homes and commercial units.
The action on the scheme will starts this month, with the construction due to start next year and demolition of the former coal plant – including the cooling towers – due to finish in 2020, with plans for the first people to move in the year after.