Vicar goes green now chips are down for boiler

The minister of St Alban's Church Rev Andrew France who are raising money for a renewable energy scheme at the church and the adjacent Eccles Hall.
The minister of St Alban's Church Rev Andrew France who are raising money for a renewable energy scheme at the church and the adjacent Eccles Hall.

A VICAR planning a ground-breaking £100,000 renewable energy project at an Earsdon church says he doesn’t see himself as an eco-warrior in the mould of Daniel ‘Swampy’ Hooper.

But after the Rev Andrew France faced up to the fact that he will soon have to replace the old boiler at St Alban’s Church in Earsdon and the adjacent Eccles Hall, he thought it would be wrong not to consider a greener option.

After Andrew set up the Earsdon Renewable Energy Project through his parochial church council, a number of sustainable ways of generating energy were looked at, before he and fellow members decided a biomass boiler fuelled by wood chippings would be their best bet.

Other options were not viable for various reasons, he said.

Solar panels would have been ideal on the sloping south-facing church roof but could have been problematic in a conservation area, said the 42-year-old.

The former BBC correspondent said: “I’m not an eco warrior. I would never describe myself as a tree-climbing environmentalist. I’ve just got an interest in the alternative option.

“In places like Scandinavia and Germany, biomass energy is just part of the mix.”

A project on the scale envisaged in Earsdon would not come cheap, however.

Though the energy savings involved would be huge, as producing energy from woodchips at current prices would come in at less than half the cost of producing the same amount from gas, the initial investment required would be sizeable.

The project team, chaired by Andrew, had to raise lots of money for a feasibility study before working out whether a biomass boiler would even be viable.

Almost half the £100,000 estimated cost has now been secured in the form of a National Lottery grant, and the project hopes to secure the rest from, an internet-based initiative set up by British Gas and the TV presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. To be in with a chance of that cash, the renewable energy project first needs to muster enough support from the public to be invited to apply.

Andrew is appealing for as many people as possible to register at to declare their support for the project.

He believes it would benefit not just the community of Earsdon but would also act as an example for other buildings and organisations, as well as potentially being used as an education tool.

A new boiler house at the rear of the Eccles Hall would be built, and an insulated pipe under the church yard would link the heating system to the church and the hall.

Andrew – married to Gillian, 37, with child number two on the way – said: “As well as heating two significant buildings in Earsdon, we will be developing an education and awareness project.

“It would be a resource for schools, community groups and other churches interested in renewable energy to come and see how we have done it.

“It would be the real icing on the cake if we could find some land to grow some trees, so you could see the planting and the harvesting and follow the process right from the beginning to the very end and perhaps organise half-day seminars.

“Biomass is virtually carbon-neutral. When you burn it, your worry is carbon dioxide, but when you grow a tree, it absorbs carbon dioxide, so it’s as close as you get to being carbon-neutral.”

If everything goes to plan and enough people support the project, the plan could go before a panel in the summer, then be put to an X Factor-style public vote.

If successful, Andrew hopes work could begin as soon as next year, subject to planning permission being granted by North Tyneside Council.

Anyone who can help in any way is asked to contact Andrew via the website or call him on (0191) 252 9393.