Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Waitati Energy Project (Column)

By Scott Willis

Turbine News
Thanks to all the offers of assistance we now have the basis for a big
day of information and consultation on the community turbine project.
Look out in next month's Blueskin News for the date, and meanwhile
rest assured that the community machinery will be oiled and in action.
I've already heard of some great props for what promises to be another
big event like the Energy Expos of 2007 and 2008. I've also been
talking with Powerhouse Wind's Bill Currie about not only the
community turbine project but also our wider Blueskin grid, centred on
the Waitati Substation.
The promise of an integrated energy community
that has emerged in our investigation of the community turbine is
exciting. By 'integrated' I mean thinking and working with energy
holistically: generating, consuming, and integrating it deeper into
our lives, more deeply for example than the monthly bill most of us
have such a 'disconnect' with currently. The more comprehensive
approach to energy we've been exploring in the community via the WEP
is something that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
proposed theoretically in the 'Get smart, think small' report in 2006.
What is surprising perhaps, is that while the policy framework has
been proposed for the Government by the PCE, among others, and it's
clear that there are plenty of people in our community who 'get it' –
really, a truly responsive, distributed energy system with clear
signals for consumers is commonsense – the surprising thing is that
successive governments just don't 'get it'.
Creating and maintaining a national energy system that runs according
to the profit motive
powered by Think Big generation can never return a low carbon,
equitable, resilient system, because it simply has the wrong motor.
What I find exciting is the possibility that we might be able to take
control ourselves, and determine our own priorities, using the
community turbine as the vehicle to establishing a local system with
equitable distribution and low carbon outcomes, and making a small but
paradigm altering change to the national energy system. And part of
that excitement is due to partners like Powerhouse Wind, who are, with
the Thin Air prototype testing in Waitati and the fine-tuning going on
in their Dunedin workshop, on the verge of launching an affordable
single household turbine into production. In an integrated energy
community both our stories are linked.

Ancient Sunlight
The 2008 Waitati Household Energy Survey revealed low coal use in
Waitati. Walking along Harvey Street and in other Waitati streets
these cold winter days gives a very different impression, however. An
unmistakable odour hangs in a warm fug beneath the cold winter air.
300 million years ago a massive die off on a carbon rich world created
fossil fuels. They've been an incredible bonus for humanity these last
200 years, with their terrible downsides only well understood
relatively recently. But where does that leave the householder? Often
with Hobson's choice. Coal is still cheap and some of us have coal
ranges designed for it and we need to keep warm in winter to keep
healthy. But at the same time we're releasing that ancient sunlight as
carbon, and with it all the other polluting particles that gives coal
that special smell. No, we're not 1952 'pea soup' London, with
thousands dying prematurely and hundreds of thousands falling ill.
We've got coastal breezes and there are relatively few of us, so a
little coal, polluting as it is, doesn't make dramatic headlines. Our
atmosphere doesn't write letters to the editor. And even when we'd
like to make a change, the cost of replacing that coal range with a
woodburning stove (burning biomass) might be just too great. Really,
to make change we need a carrot, not just the stick of social censure
and the Emissions Trading Scheme. Luckily there is a minimum $500
subsidy (the max. is $1200) provided by EECA to move to clean heat
for your household. It doesn't have to be a heat pump. And it is also
possible to retrofit a coal range to be a relatively efficient
woodburner (with a wetback). There are even very good
wood burning stoves, for cooking on, heating water, and simply
heating. I know there are several households who cook on coal – and
remember gas, though clean burning, is also a fossil fuel. If you're
burning coal however but it is not your key household
fuel then is the EECA subsidy enough of a
carrot to change to something cleaner? Perhaps along with a community
turbine we need to look again at the concept of a community woodlot or
woodlots. What else will help us all move to renewable energy?
Whatever your source of heat, keep warm and invest wisely this winter.
Waitati Energy Project, Scott Willis 482 2048, waitatienergy@gmail.com

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