Monday, 24 May 2010

Waitati Energy Project

By Scott Willis

Community Energy
One of Waitati's true gentlemen, so full of energy, has left us. Terry
Sheppard was a real character with a big heart and a disarming grin, and was
someone who knew with certainty what it was he wanted to do, even when
bureaucrats and officials were less than convinced. I can't get used to no
longer seeing him on his bike, and it is Terry's abrupt absence and the
sense of close community that was evident following his death that is so
reminiscent of who Terry was, and who we are: engaged, passionate and
present. Terry won't be forgotten, the memories are as strong and honest as
his Castle, with its tonnes of stone and concrete. You've left a powerful
legacy Terry, not just in the structures you created, but in all of those
you touched and inspired. I just wish I'd taken up your offer to put a wind
turbine on the top of the Castle, cuz!

Community Turbine
Earlier in May (on the 5th) I reported to the WEP group at Waitati Hall on
our feasibility study into the community turbine. A large productive group
asked questions and fuelled a buoyant atmosphere with valuable discussion. A
clear message about this generation project, from those present, was that
integration with our consumption practices is important in ensuring the
community turbine secures community support. We now know for example that
there is a high likelihood of good financial viability and therefore returns
for our community, in establishing a community turbine. There's still work
to do in establishing a final assessment, but financial viability is
crucial. There were also very clear indications that a community turbine is
a way of achieving an integrated energy community - allowing us to live
within our means rather than despoiling someone else's landscape and
environment while consuming electricity from other sources (renewable and
non-renewable). Production of electricity close to its consumption point
provides great efficiencies.

Increasing the power we hold over our own consumption is something that was
woven through the community turbine discussion. If we can link our share of
the turbine to our power bill, in a clear message about the amount we've
been rebated, wouldn't that send a strong message to reduce demand and
ensure greater household efficiencies? Solar hot water, Photovoltaics,
Ultra-Smart meters and insulation all figured prominently too in the
discussion. This is what an integrated energy community would look like: a
truly distributed energy grid, with increasing levels of energy efficiency
being monitored in our metering and billing systems, and rewarded with
rebates and energy technology subsidies. We know what value subsidised
insulation can bring, in terms of lower power bills, lower carbon footprint,
fewer health issues and greater family comfort. Imagine the elegance of
building our own generation, giving us the ability to conduct an annual
subsidised energy programme within the Blueskin Bay area.

How will this be possible? One of the most valuable insights shared at that
meeting was that at a larger Blueskin community of around 700 households
(from Purakaunui to near Seacliff for our section of the grid dependent on
the Waitati sub-station), we spend at least $700, 000 on electricity
annually - that's 700K practically in perpetuity. What if we decided to
spend that same amount, or a substantial portion of it, on our own
electricity? The investment would be firstly used in establishing our own
turbine, and then using its generation to return benefits to our own
community, not investors elsewhere in NZ or Australia.

What now? Community consultation, which will involve an open day and
surveys; establishing potential business agreements; conducting the last
feasibility assessments; and establishing our own legal body to own and
manage the turbine. With these elements in place we can move to development.
That's a strong task sheet for the rest of 2010.

The WEP meeting was a valuable public moment to examine more closely some of
the ideas we hold collectively. Would a community turbine mean we hand
control to a CEO? (Opinion, Blueskin News, 1 May 2010). Probably, yes, at
least some control. For as co-operative or company shareholders we'd be
likely to vote for someone to do the 'work' of managing our asset: at
present we have no control over the management decisions behind the
electricity we consume and the price we pay for it. Of course, my work
involves finding a way to enable strong community involvement and
participation while ensuring we can also take pragmatic steps to build a
more resilient and sustainable community. However, please don't just wait
for the formal consultation events planned! Contact me at the BRCT office,
come in to have a look at a copy of the feasibility study, attend the WEP
meetings to find out more, and don't forget our great wee community
newsletter, "Blueskin News", as a place to air opinions.

Waitati Energy Project, Scott Willis, 482 2048, waitatienergy@gmail.com
(join the WEP email list), http://transitiontowns.org.nz/waitati

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