Thursday, 23 September 2010

Waitati Energy Project

By Scott Willis

There was plenty in September to help focus our minds on increasing
household resilience. Earthquakes in Christchurch reminded us all of
how our 'everyday' can change dramatically and suddenly. Gales, snow,
sleet, snow and gales again all added to the anxiety: "Do we have an
emergency kit, or cans and candles?"
In 2006, a community workshop looked into the challenges and
opportunities we would face within one and two decades (bigger storm
events, resource crunches, local communities, etc). Out of that
workshop came many ideas and the Weggies and WEP are just two results.
Now, four years later we're seriously looking at building our own
power source and taking charge of our own power needs.
I've been talking about this for some time, however outside of
community meetings and direct discussion/queries, there has been no
real opportunity for wide public community dialogue. So for the past
month I've been working hard on 'back-room' stuff, like securing
funding and planning the next phase of the community turbine, to allow
public dialogue.
The Hikurangi Foundation, our current sponsors, has agreed to provide
support for a further 12 months. Support that is not only some salary,
but crucially also mentoring, advice and expertise. Without this
crucial support the serious work would grind to a halt. And the next
critical step is in-depth community consultation.
For this, I've been working with Ros Day and Janet Stephenson at Otago
University, and together we're requesting involvement from the Energy
Efficiency and Conservation Authority. Janet argues that while "New
Zealand's planning system is set up to enable the involvement of the
community and wider public in decision-making processes under the
Resource Management Act, the resource consent process offers a very
limited opportunity for the public to have a voice on wider socially
determined issues".
This renewable generation project was led by the community, and
developed in workshops and public meetings. Now I'm employed to take
it to development and document the process and pitfalls along the way.
Through WEP we've already looked at a range of energy generation
possibilities suitable for our communities. WEP work over the past 20
months has led to a much greater understanding around the potential
costs and benefits to the community, for example, co-development
opportunity, the possibility of community ownership etc.
Now, if we are to move to development, we need to check community
opinion on what has already been done and determine what the
acceptable balance might be (in terms of personal wellbeing, and
social and environmental factors). We also need to confirm the
parameters around site options, scale and types of renewable
generation within the community.
Importantly, we want to do this seriously, with clear surveys and good
visual displays demonstrating whether your house falls within the
Waitati Sub-station area, what your energy bill might look like, etc.,
and have experts on hand to answer questions. This will be the real
start – we've found that our own renewable generation is feasible:
now, together, are we able to create the conditions required for New
Zealand's first community initiated, led and developed wind turbine to
become fact?
More regular updates are sent out via the WEP update email or you can
contact me directly either at 03 4822048 / 0274888314 or

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