SOLAR panels are to be installed in dozens of homes in a former pit village as part of a pioneering project to deliver greener and warmer homes.

Nearly 90 privately-owned homes in the village of Craghead, near Stanley, will have the panels fitted which will allow them to generate their own free electricity.

Durham County Council and energy company Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) announced the agreement as part of a wider scheme which will see £3.6m worth of improvements in almost 140 homes spread across five streets in the village.

Around 40 privately-rented properties and 50 owner-occupied homes will have solar panels installed, with the property owners meeting 25 per cent of the cost.

Coun Clive Robson, the authority’s cabinet member for housing, said: "This a truly revolutionary programme which I believe will prove of national significance when complete.

"Through our partnership with SSE, nearly 90 houses will produce their own energy via roof solar panels and, combined with wider green improvements carried out under our Coalfields initiatives, a total of 139 properties will be cleaner, greener places to live".

Under the wider scheme, a private company has bought a number of houses, some of which have stood empty for 15 years, and brought them up to modern standards before re-letting them at an affordable rent to families in need.

The area has historically suffered from high numbers of empty properties and the council hopes the investment will not only improve residents’ quality of life by providing better homes, but will also reduce anti-social behaviour and improve the environment.

Charles Farley, development manager with SSE, said: "By funding the solar panels we are illustrating both our commitment to renewable energy provision and our support for improving the quality of life for many people.

"The residents are able to use any electricity generated by the panels free of charge and any excess energy is exported into the National Grid. SSE’s investment in the solar panels has been made possible through the Government’s Feed-in -Tariff incentive. "

As part of the package of improvements, 89 properties in the village will have a groundbreaking solid wall insulation system installed, with a hand-tinted brick effect, surface, which is reckoned to improve energy efficiency by around 25 per cent.