BHESCo are proposing the development of a shared heat network in Firle Village, to be powered by a biomass boiler and ground source heat pumps.

Project Background

In 2017 the UK Government unveiled its Clean Growth Strategy which set out a long term vision to reduce pollution and climate harming emissions. A key policy proposal was to:

Build and extend heat networks across the country, underpinned with public funding (allocated in the Spending Review 2015) out to 2021

Phase out the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in new and existing homes currently off the gas grid during the 2020s

(The Clean Growth Strategy 2017; Leading The Way To A Low Carbon Future, p.13)

In keeping with this strategy, the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) provided a grant to study the feasibility of developing a heat network in the village of West Firle. The outcome of this study was introduced, then discussed with residents during a meeting on 30 January. A second meeting was held on 2nd March 2019.

Most residents of the village currently rely on fossil fuels, like kerosene oil, to heat their homes.  The financial, environmental and social implications of this pose challenges to the villagers.  These can be overcome by exploiting technology and the renewable resources available on the Estate.  

The feasibility study has concluded with a comprehensive plan to create a cleaner, more secure future for residents by generating affordable renewable heat by installing biomass and ground source heat pump technologies.  Clean electricity is generated by the sun via solar panels in a nearby field.

 We expect that the project will bring significant benefit to all homes and businesses in the village. 

The primary aims are to:

  • Provide secure, reliable and affordable heat, 
  • Improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions,
  • Remove dependency on fossil fuels for the energy supply.
The study has been conducted with the permission of the Firle Estate, providing the development partners with the freedom to deliver the best outcomes for the village. 

    Map of Proposed Firle Heat Pipeline

    Renewable heat will be generated from a biomass boiler to be located in the energy centre (the red square at the base of the map) above. Hot water will be pumped through insulated pipework that form the backbone of the network. The pipework will be laid along The Street, The Dock and the Church, as indicated by the red line in the map above.

    The blue lines are separate shared ground loop heating distribution systems that link the properties with individual heat pumps to designated areas of boreholes used for heating sources (the blue diagonal lines).

    The feasibility study has been delivered by BHESCo for the financial feasibility and ReEnergise for the technical feasibility.  Funding for the study was secured by BHESCo through the RCEF

    Kayla Ente, the CEO and founder of BHESCo, said:

    “This is the first step in what we hope will be West Firle's transition to a low or zero carbon village. It is especially interesting because of the heritage nature of the buildings. Developing a clean, renewable heat network will put Firle on the map as a shining beacon of how to create clean, affordable energy for villages off the gas grid across the country”.
    Kayla Ente - CEO Founder - Brighton Hove Energy Services Cooperative (BHESCo)
    Kayla Ente
    CEO & Founder of BHESCo

    Presentation Slides

    View slides on LinkedIn

    Click on ‘Presentation Slides’ above to view the slides from our presentation that was delivered at Firle village hall on 30th January 2019. The answers to some of the questions raised in the presentation can be found in the FAQ section below.

    BHESCo additionally recorded all questions from residents present at the meeting and have collated our responses in these FAQs, which can be browsed below or downloaded.

    Community Buy-In

    The success of the project is very much reliant on the support from local residents. BHESCo see this project as an incredibly exciting opportunity to support Firle on its journey of self-reliance by creating its own locally generated renewable energy.

    The systems will be owned by an energy services social enterprise, undertaking the maintainance and operation of the plant for the residents, eliminating the need to buy oil which is subject to unpredictable price changes due to volatile global markets.

    The community will have an opportunity to invest in the project, earn a 4% annual return and have a say in the governance of the energy services enterprise. A representative of the village will sit on the enterprise’s board.

    Community Feedback Forms

    If you are a resident of Firle Village, we would greatly value your input to help with the development of this project.

    Please can you take a moment to complete the two forms below if you have not already done so.

    The Expression of Interest form is to help us gather an idea of how many residents of the village are in support of  the heat network. Ideally, we would like 100%of properties to be included in the heat network.

    The Annual Oil Consumption form is to help us gain an accurate idea of exacty how much heat is required by each property in the village.

    In order to measure support for this project we are asking all residents of Firle to tell us whether they would like to be connected to the heat network, or if they would prefer not to be included.

    If you are a resident of Firle Village and have not yet provided us with your feedback then please do so using the form below.

    Please note this is only an expression of interest and not a binding commitment of any kind.

    Additional Comments:

    To help us gain a better understanding of the annual heating requirement for each property, we’re asking residents to tell us how much oil they usually purchase in a year.

    This will provide a good indication of how much heat is required by the property annually.

    Please indicate the amount of oil you use over an average 24 month period:

    If you know the approximate date and cost of your deliveries over the last 2 years that would be very helpful.

    Date Of Deliveries

    Cost Of Deliveries



    We offer all participants in Zones A, B and C a 15% discount on their estimated current oil, LPG and electricity costs. We expect all properties to make savings. The village is estimated to collectively save £12,087 in the first year of the programme.  

    These savings are expected to rise by at least 1% per year.  This is because while heating prices are forecasted to increase by 3.5% per year, contractual increases with BHESCo will be fixed at 2.5% per year. (based on average RPI)

    The current proposal is for the standing charge to be maintained at the same rate, or 55p per day throughout the anticipated contractual period of 25 years.

    The way we set pricing depends on what you are currently using as a heating source, being either electricity, LPG or oil. This is designed for fairness, so that everyone obtains a saving of 15% compared to their current heating bill.

    It’s a Win-Win – you get a discount right away, an unlimited supply of clean, secure, high quality heat without having any anxiety around increases in oil prices.

    ECO grant funding is available to properties with an EPC of E or higher. Most ECO work is aimed at homes where the occupier receives some form of means tested benefit.

    More information – https://www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk/pages/energy-company-obligation

    BHESCo is proposing to work with the Estate to introduce a programme to improve properties’ energy performance. It is our intention to manage heating costs over a longer term by reducing the properties’ heat demand.

    There will be no connection charges assessed by BHESCo no matter how far away your property is to the heating network or how complicated the installation to your house or business will be.


    There is a digital display unit on the front of each individual HIU (heat interface unit).  This acts as a meter in the same way as an electricity meter, measuring the heat used in kWh (kilo Watt hours). Usage will be charged at a price per kWh of heat used plus a daily standing charge.

    Residents will get a bill like they do now. They will pay for what they use, monthly DD, there will be a Standing Charge to cover the cost to maintain the system and to recover some of BHESCo’s cost to establish the heating infrastructure. Our Standing Charge will never change.

    The water in the DHS (district heating system) is completely isolated from the household systems.  Heat is exchanged between the DHS water and the household water in the HIU and they do not mix at any point.

    Because the water in the property is separate from the water in the DHS, you will be able to determine at what temperature you require your water as now.

    The heating system will be backed up by a 500kW LPG boiler that will provide 100% back up for the biomass, in case of failure and for times when the biomass boiler is being serviced. All pumps will be twin head so that they continue if the primary head fails.  A 20,000 litre tank will store hot water.

    BHESCo successfully owns and operates a heat network already and has valuable experience in how to build and maintain the system.

    This would be determined on a case by case basis.  We are not in favour of this because it will impact the ability of the heat network to fund itself and could create a financial strain on the project. 

    We are creating a heat backup to address any faults that may occur with the boiler plant.  This method is more reliable than the system currently in place as currently if your boiler breaks down there is no backup heating system in place.

    It should be possible for the oil to be sold to other villages still on oil locally but ideally the tank should be run down before the system is connected.

    They will be disposed of in an ecologically friendly way or reused if possible.

    Yes, but your internal household systems, such as circulation pumps, will also not run, so you would not be able to benefit from the heat even if the DHS was continuing to run.  This is no different from the current situation.

    The Estate have had a handful of unplanned outages i.e. where the system went down without them planning to take it down (e.g. for routine servicing). Of these, only one was serious and the burner was offline for about three weeks.  The fault was traced to a small pump. 

    Mending it was complicated by the fact that British Gas had withdrawn unilaterally from being the UK distributor of the Austrian-made Froling burners and the maintenance contractor, Baystar, had not yet set up an independent relationship direct with Froling. 

    However, Firle Place switched to the backup oil boilers for the whole period and there was no interruption to the heat supply to Firle Place and the Stable Flats.  It is this principle that lies behind not only having two boilers in the proposed village system (active and reserve, except at times of peak demand) and where the reserve LPG boiler switches on if a problem arises with the biomass boiler.

    (If you want an independent view on the existing Firle boiler please feel free to speak to David Fox-Wilson who is the member of staff in charge of it.)

    The biomass boiler will produce 94% less carbon dioxide than the current oil boilers and is considered carbon neutral because the new growth of woodland will absorb the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from burning the wood fuel. 

    The biomass boiler will also produce 28% less nitrous oxide than the current oil boilers.

    We will be using 20% moisture wood chip, which produces very low levels of unhealthy flue gas.  To minimise emissions, BHESCo plans to install a sophisticated ceramic filter, which virtually eradicates any particulates and harmful noxious gases.


    The wood chip will come from managed woodland in the South East of England and eventually from the Firle Estate.  Some wood is shipped from America in the form of pellets for systems like the Drax power station but we will be using wood chip sourced and grown locally.

    We’ve identified a source for woodfuel from a dedicated farm in Horsham who will responsibly supply the woodchip for Firle’s heating system.

    We are not.  There are strict rules about the woodland management used to supply biomass.  Trees are normally coppiced, not chopped down.  Managed woodlands grow healthier woodfuel. We will actually be increasing woodland to provide biomass for the boiler. Woodland is an offset against carbon emissions.

    The wood is dried naturally, which is why it takes 18 months to 2 years from coppicing to be ready for chipping.  We require the wood chips to be at 20% moisture content.

    Modern boilers are very efficient, including recycling of flue gases, so there is very little waste heat.  It could be possible to use spare heat capacity form the boiler in the summer to dry wood but this would not be eligible for RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) and would make the wood chip very expensive.

    The plan is to increase the amount of managed woodland on the Estate to 65 acres of ‘short rotation forestry sufficient to provide for the system. We estimate it will take about 10 years before sufficient wood is being harvested and has been dried and chipped ready to supply all the heat required for the biomass system.  In the meantime, BHESCo will source wood chip from local suppliers within the South East of England

    We do not anticipate this and have taken cost increases into the business model for the heating network.  The Forestry Commission (FC) estimates that there are some 35 million tonnes of unmanaged timber in the south-east of England alone.  This is wood that, in the normal course of good woodland management, would be removed.  As the biomass industry becomes more established, processes are becoming more efficient and competition is keeping prices down.

    This would be BHESCo’s intention and we would support the Estate to make this happen.  We would hope that village residents who wanted to get involved would be given the opportunity, within the requirements of health and safety standards.


    Yes. We will need a statutory undertaking to trench the road.  Utilities then have to provide plans of all known services. But generally, these plans are not accurate nor complete. 

    We will therefore take all necessary precautions in terms of scanning and hand digging.  We will also have the various utilities on stand-by in case there is a problem that they need to fix.

    It is possible that the utilities may wish to take the opportunity of open trenching to improve their own services.  Certainly, improving the fibre optic run for internet services in the village will be considered.

    Trenching will be completed in short lengths, maybe 50m at a time.  Access for emergency vehicles must be maintained at all times so it may be that parking will be suspended in the area of the dig.  We will ensure that there is a good liaison with everyone affected.

    Before any work is undertaken we will be provided with a detailed ordinance map by all service providers in the area, e.g. Sourthern Water, UKPN, BT, etc.


    The Estate is supporting the development partners, BHESCo and ReEnergise to present their plans to tenants so that they may express their views, ensuring that any concerns will be addressed.  The Estate wants to know that tenants are supportive in order for the plan to proceed.

    One way or another, oil is going to be history. The UK Government’s ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ signalled a clear intent to remove oil from rural energy mix by 2030.  This is a cross party decision, therefore, no matter who is in power over the next 10 years, the intention is for the plan to go ahead.

    BHESCo is offering the opportunity to migrate away from dirty oil fuel,  while there is still a subsidy in place, making it cheaper and easier to bring more energy security to the village

    We will be meeting separately with the residents in Zones B & C to discuss the implications of their programme with them. As they have communicated their interest in undertaking their project at the same time, this is now being considered.

    This is currently being investigated.  We have approached Lewes District Council but to date have received no response from them.

    We are inviting all members of the community to become investors in the initiative.

    A share in BHESCo costs £10 and the minimum investment amount is £250, maximum £100,000. Interest rates are 4% per annum, not-compounded.  If a resident leaves the village, they can keep their shares and carry on earning 4% interest on their investment, or sell back their shares to BHESCo if they wish.

    The total investment to be made in the heat networks for Zones A, B and C is £1.87million.  BHESCo will raise the funds through a community share offer.

    We will be hosting another information event in the Village hall from 10am-12pm on 2nd March 2019.  As we require 100% participation in the programme, we are hoping that everyone who hasn’t already been to one of our events will attend

    The system will be collectively owned by all BHESCo shareholders. A unique investment vehicle will be set up to administer investment for interest payments.

    If completed before March 2021 the project will qualify for the ‘Renewable Heat Incentive’, which is a government environmental programme that provides financial incentives to increase the uptake of renewable heat by businesses, the public sector and non-profit organisations.

    Eligible installations receive quarterly payments over 20 years based on the amount of heat generated. The scheme covers England, Scotland, and Wales.


    BHESCo will be speaking with individual properties over the course of March to answer specific questions and to draw up preliminary consumer/ supplier contracts.

    With the backing of the villagers, BHESCo will invite members of Firle Village and from the wider community to invest in the project in order to raise the capital costs required to install the new system.

    BHESCo will tender the installation to local suppliers to establish the more cost-effective quote available.

    No. This is a one time offer only. Residents must opt-in to be connected to the heat network as it is being constructed. Retrospective connection is both cost-prohibitive and impractical.

    In the event that BHESCo was to enter into administration, ownership of the heat network and all associated contractual obligations will be passed on to another energy cooperative, in exactly the same way that an energy supplier will take-on the customers from a supplier who has entered into administration.

    BHESCo do not plan to hold any further public forums.
    However, residents are invited to contact BHESCo directly to address any issues and concerns. BHESCo will also be proactively contacting all residents to discuss individual circumstances and participation in the heat network.

    Case Study - Miserden

    Miserden, a rural village in the heart of the Cotswolds, is an excellent example of a rural community successfully employing a biomass boiler to meet off-grid heat demand.

    Miserden is a historic parish of architectural significance with many similarities to Firle.

    This collection of photographs provides an idea of the type of system that BHESCo will install at Firle. For more information on the biomass boilers at Miserden please visit their website: https://www.miserden.org/biomass/

    RCEF is a £15 million programme, delivered by Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects which provide economic and social benefits to the community.

    For more information on RCEF, visit www.wrap.org.uk/renewables