by Scott Willis
Using electricity to heat our homes is an inefficient use of electricity (though of course better than fossil fuel alternatives) and clean burning wood can be carbon neutral, as long as new trees are planted for those cut down. We currently heat our homes using firewood (including pellets), diesel, gas, coal or electricity. Our national electricity supply is only about 70% renewable at present – low for a country with all our wind, hydro and solar resource and small population. But keeping warm in cold weather is important for good health, and the way we keep warm can also maintain environmental health. So clean-heat is important, but you'd be foolish to waste that heat in an un-insulated, or poorly insulated house – it's just too expensive.
Therefore, alongside the Blueskin wind cluster project BRCT is working to establish a Community Energy Advice Service, as part of BEP. Very soon we expect the DCC to launch an 'Eco-Housing Targeted Rate' initiative to support further insulation installation and clean-heating installation. We're working with the DCC and the Community Energy Network to develop an information and advice support package to accompany the eco-housing initiative and make it accessible, particularly to residents in cold unhealthy houses. As part of that (if we can) there'll be home energy audits, telephone advice and more, to help people take action within their budget. Such a service would not only ensure people understood the various grants and offers available: it would also allow the knowledge we've developed to be made more available, and allow us to use the experience of others who already provide this service in other parts of NZ. Our biggest challenge as usual is finding the resources to make it possible, and we're working hard on that.
Ironically, it was while wood-splitting late March that I suffered one of the downsides of firewood – 'Autumn Hand' as some health professionals call it – or the accidental and painful meeting between a sharp axe and unwary thumb. As many of you know, at present I'm the only employee at the BRCT office, but when I was out of action through April, BRCT volunteer trustees and friends, who already contribute a great deal, stepped up to keep the energy work moving along while bone and flesh knitted. I'm enormously grateful to them and all who've helped this past month. You've probably found the latest BEP pamphlet in your mailbox thanks to their hard work for example. Other work on the boil centres around the establishment of a 'Power Purchase Agreement' – a necessary element to ensure financial viability of the local wind cluster – and ownership structures. Wind testing continues to provide still richer data on the available wind resource, and as soon as I clear my office backlog we'll begin preparation for mid-year community meetings, where the full proposal options will go out on the table to be discussed and debated. And as we move further into the year our website www.blueskinpower.co.nz/ is where you'll find fresh information, like for instance photo-shopped images of what a wind cluster on Porteous Hill might look like from three different Blueskin locations.
For information on BEP contact Scott on 482 2048 or by email email@example.com.