Autumn weather was blowing a gale when the morning of our Horseshoe
Bend field-trip dawned. There was only one 7am phone call though
("shouldn't we cancel in this wind?") and at the rendezvous point
everyone was looking ready and warmly wrapped.
Our Roxburgh rendezvous point was 'Jimmy's Pies' (where else?) where
Peter Dowling, Pioneer Generation's chief executive and Bob and Viv of
our WEP group were waiting for us. After a brief introduction to
Pioneer Generation by Peter, we set off again, winding up the road to
Horseshoe Bend. This was all very nostalgic country for me – my
grandfather Jack Young was mayor of Roxburgh in the 1960s-70s and his
grandfather Andrew Young was one of Roxburgh's earliest settlers (a
miner, beside the Teviot river). Every summer I remember as a child
we'd spend part of our Christmas holidays exploring Roxburgh and
At some point along the winding road we came over a crest and there
they were: three giant children's toys set in the bare undulating
landscape. Closer, they grew more impressive and more a part of the
landscape, a sculptural enhancement (for me at least) on a rise above
the Teviot (and above Pioneer's small 4.3MW Horseshoe Bend hydro
Beneath the turbines – only one was turning – we were astonished by
the noise. The wind was a steady and cold 12 metres/second yet it
sounded like a washing machine. Peter explained the tips of the blades
(which reach to 69 metres on the vertical) are travelling at around
200 kms/hr at this speed and we could read the live output, showing
around 550kW each moment, yet it was not noisy. Of course, the wind's
speed confuses turbine sound so that as paradoxical as it seems, wind
turbines often seem more obvious in light winds than in real blusters.
I was most impressed by the simple, practical and effective
technology: these are second-hand turbines and took 10 days to erect
and begin generating. Inside, a tower is essentially a steel tube
bolted together, simply providing height for the 'nacelle' which sits
on the top of the tower and includes most of the working parts of the
turbine, and to which the rotor is attached. Essentially, the wind
pushes against the blades which turn the rotor, which turns a
generator (a dynamo) which makes electricity.
Peter fielded questions from our diverse group – technical questions,
resource consent questions and business questions – and in turn gave
us an insight into the small 18 person community-owned renewable
generation company that is Pioneer Generation. Eventually, our fingers
turning blue, we descended to the shelter of the nearby hydro plant.
To cut a long story short, in addition to the turbines we visited the
Horseshoe Bend hydro and Teviot Bridge and Teviot Ellis hydro.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the scale of generation – its low
environmental impact and reflecting on the difference between this
type of embedded generation and the big hydro/wind/gas/coal/geothermal
generation we mostly meet our household energy demands with. I loved,
too, seeing NZ falcons on our trip and couldn't help thinking that
appropriate scale distributed generation is the way of the future,
weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and generating energy closer to
where we consume it, more in tune with our environment.
A big thank you is due to Peter Dowling for being so generous with his
time and knowledge. We had a late picnic lunch together by the Clutha
(after a very brief glimpse at the cob cottage my great great
grandfather built and my mother grew up in, beside the Teviot), and
meandered back to Waitati. A great day out!
GST and Energy
It seems inevitable. Prices are about to rise across the board in May
as the government pursues a rise in GST, causing prices to rise on
everything. We know of course that this type of tax will present the
most challenge to people whose household income is already borderline
(levels of fuel poverty – the inability to afford to keep warm – are
already extremely high in the south of the South Island).
You may be already engaged with this politically, and there are
pragmatic things we can do as well. Increasing household energy
efficiency is probably one of the most effective things you could
contemplate as we head towards winter and a GST hike. By investing
now, in insulation, double glazing, solar hot water, photovoltaic
panels, energy efficient appliances, or even dry wood, you'll be
buying at 'X' + GST 12.5% and saving when energy is costing 'X' + GST
at 15% over winter. That's a double benefit. The bigger and more
strategic your energy efficiency investment now, the greater the
percentage of negative GST impact you'll be able to offset over time.
GST is a very lucrative tax for governments. While this government is
raising GST taxes, don't expect any future government to cut it soon –
it is just too good for the coffers. Now is the time to invest in
greater financial security for your household by investing in energy
Finally, work in the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust has been
hectic this month. As I write, we have our community turbine
feasibility report to finalise, and we've just completed a big funding
bid in conjunction with Waitati School to the Community Development
Scheme. It's all on in Blueskin Bay!
• WEP: Scott Willis 482 2048, 0274888314, firstname.lastname@example.org
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