Thursday, 23 October 2008

Waitati Energy Project (column)

Waitati Energy Project

October was as full as Santa's sack for the Waitati Energy Project. In
the first week confirmation of the Blueskin Resilient Communities
Trust was received from the companies register. This trust will
provide not only a legal structure to facilitate WEP activities, but
also other sustainable/transition initiatives in Waitati and Blueskin
Bay.

By the second week of October all the Home Energy Rating Scheme audits
had been completed, and on the 16 October formal presentations were
made to the recipients.

Gerry Thompson and Therese hosted the informal evening at their
retro-fitted Harvey St property. Glenn Murdoch of Sustainable Design
explained the process, findings and limitations of the audits, and
Solis Norton who works with Lloyd McGinty of Transitionz Group
answered questions (Glenn and Lloyd had contracts from EECA to conduct
the audits). It was fascinating to compare house ratings, and look at
what constituted difference, and why some ratings were remarkably
similar in dramatically different homes. It's clear that as well as
being useful tool for buyers and sellers, a HERS audit gives some
clear direction on making cost and energy effective change in terms of
our houses. The measure doesn't address the way we 'use' a house
(curtains, etc) but does provide hard detail on a house's
functionality, and makes recommendations. So it treats the property as
independent of its owners and makes an objective statement that will
ultimately become an important factor in the house market and an
important tool in making upgrades or in building new structures.

A week later (22 Oct) we held an Energy Forum, 'Rising Electricity
Prices: Town in Transition'. Jeanette Fitzsimons, our special guest
speaker, arrived from Central Otago to visit the Waitati Energy
Project and first toured Waitati's highest HERS rated house. There she
also met the Powerhouse Wind team, viewed components of their ground
breaking single blade turbine and watched a short presentation.

The forum began at 7.30. Jeanette provided a simple breakdown of big
forces and local impacts. She made essential connections between the
emerging global recession and its deeply rooted causes, i.e. the hard
limits we are hitting in the natural world – oil, water, fisheries,
grain, minerals, along with the dangerous instability of a rapidly
changing climate. Yet she reminded us that we are not powerless, and
gave examples of where we could all take effective action.

It was an extremely lively evening with the amusing (a story of a man
who wanted to remain off the grid, but had to fight the company to do
so – and got some copper in the process), the outraged (why would
National proclaim it wants to repeal the Green Homes legislation and
the 1 billion dollar insulation fund for NZ's housing stock when we
know we urgently need to give NZers warm dry and healthy homes?), the
pragmatic ('what is the best solar hot water set up and how can it be
made affordable?'), and the serious ('what can I do, and what can we
do now?').

The research relationship between Waitati community and the Otago
Energy Research Centre, coordinated by the Waitati Energy Project
featured strongly, as the implications of the partnership were made
explicit: knowing ourselves better, and becoming empowered to act on
that knowledge; becoming an example. Ian Buchan (owner/manager of
Power Options, specialising in installing distributed and off-grid
generation systems) argued that by getting our own households and
lives sorted we'd solve the big problems, Inga Smith (Co-Chair of
Solar Action) mentioned the multiple arenas of action, and emphasised
that we are all political creatures and surprisingly powerful at that,
once we become aware of our own power, Janet Stephenson (convenor of
the Otago Energy Research Centre) emphasised the power of community,
in knowledge combined with action, and Jeanette Fitzsimons (Greens
Co-Leader, and Government Spokesperson on Energy Efficiency and
Conservation) stressed that knowing and understanding the
possibilities and limits we're presented with as individuals, as a
community group and members of community, and as political citizens of
New Zealand, were all important for gauging effective action.

Many ideas and initiatives were aired, and one that particularly
captured the imagination of all present was the suggestion to form a
power buying cooperative, and negotiate a bulk purchasing price with a
supply company, offering moderated demand in return for a special
relationship. As the forum concluded, no-one was left in any doubt of
the benefits of adding insulation to our houses (some if none, more if
some) or of installing solar water heating. DCC Energy Manager Neville
Auton sketched out some exciting energy possibilities, perfectly in
tune with WEP objectives, and ideas were sparking over cups of tea and
biscuits. About 100 people attended and we're left with a surplus of
topics and pragmatic actions to go on with!

So what's up this month?

First and foremost is the Otago Energy Research Centre's 'Energy
Survey' – on behaviours and attitudes towards energy use. Please
complete the survey: only the person in charge of the survey will see
any personal information. It will be anonymous but will give us
tremendous knowledge about the Waitati community and ensure that
future actions aiming at energy security will be well targeted and
effective. Preliminary results of the survey will be presented to the
community at a meeting in December. Towards the end of the month we're
also planning a meeting between Waitati residents and OERC researchers
as part of our ongoing community-research dialogue, and all Waitatians
are invited (please join the WEP list for updates).

If you want to contact the WEP: scott.willis @ otago.ac.nz or 482 2249.

by Scott Willis

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