Peo­ple power

An en­ter­pris­ing Otago com­mu­nity are tak­ing the re­silience of their area into their own hands with the devel­op­ment of a mini wind farm.

Element - - WORLD - By Adam Gif­ford

“As one woman said in our com­mu­nity meet­ing, if she could see the wind farms go­ing, she would know when to put on her dish­washer and wash­ing ma­chine.”

By 2015, Scott Wil­lis hopes the power he uses at his home on the north­ern fringe of Dunedin will come from a wind tur­bine he can see and own.

It’s not just hop­ing. As project man­ager for the Blue­skin Re­silient Com­mu­ni­ties Trust, he’s mak­ing it hap­pen.

It was a flood that changed the way the res­i­dents of Blue­skin Bay and Wai­tati thought about their com­mu­nity and its needs.

“It was an in-your-face man­i­fes­ta­tion of what the fu­ture might hold,” Wil­lis says. “We were aware of is­sues like peak oil and cli­mate change, but we had not con­sid­ered the so­cial and eco­nomic tur­moil that might oc­cur.

“Then we had the flood in 2006. Wai­tati was cut in three and we were left to our own de­vices.

“By the time Civil De­fence turned up we had most of the sand bag­ging done and all they did was air­lift some­one off their roof with a heli­copter, which was prob­a­bly un­nec­es­sary.

“What we dis­cov­ered was the risk was man­i­fest now, it wasn’t just a fu­ture risk, but also that we had the ca­pac­ity to man­age that risk and bounce back in our own com­mu­nity. That was a really pow­er­ful les­son.”

Tak­ing the view that government doesn’t lead but fol­lows, the com­mu­nity set out to learn how it could make a dif­fer­ence, look­ing at is­sues like cost-ef­fec­tive green en­ergy, lo­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing, healthy homes, and low-oil op­tions for those com­mut­ing to Dunedin.

It has long been a com­mu­nity that has looked for alternative ways to get along. Wai­tati was where New Zealand coun­ter­cul­ture jour­nal Mush­room had its home from 1974 un­til its demise in 1985.

It’s a bounded en­ergy zone, a penin­sula of about 1000 house­holds con­nected to the Wai­tati sub­sta­tion.

“The en­ergy work didn’t start with ‘let’s build a wind clus­ter.’ It started in 2007 build­ing en­ergy lit­er­acy,” Wil­lis says.

The fol­low­ing year the Trust was formed as a le­gal en­tity to ap­ply for fund­ing and ne­go­ti­ate con­tracts on be­half of the com­mu­nity, with one of its first ac­tiv­i­ties be­ing a large in­su­la­tion retro­fit pro­gramme.

In 2009 some Otago Univer­sity ge­og­ra­phy stu­dents asked to put up some 10-me­tre wind test­ing tow­ers.

“Mi­cro hy­dro is pos­si­ble here, but for Blue­skin Bay the price per kilo­watt of wind power is much bet­ter than any other tech­nol­ogy if we want to gen­er­ate lo­cally in our own catch­ment.”

Last month the trust erected its own 30-me­tre tower, with help from Trustpower, wind power ex­perts Gar­rad Has­son and $9005 raised on the crowd­sourc­ing web­site pledgeme.co.nz by res­i­dents and oth­ers in­ter­ested to see how the project pro­gresses.

The data from the new tower, com­bined with 20 months of data from the 10-me­tre tow­ers, means that by the end of June the trust should be ready to pre­pare re­source con­sent ap­pli­ca­tion, cre­ate a busi­ness en­tity and start rais­ing the $6 mil­lion or so needed to build a 2MW to 2.5MW ca­pac­ity wind­farm, prob­a­bly con­sist­ing of four 500kW Wind­flow tur­bines stand­ing 45m above the ground.

That would prob­a­bly be enough for the com­mu­nity, but ar­range­ments also need to be made to sell ex­cess power.

The project has at­tracted sup­port and at­ten­tion from around the coun­try, with law and en­gi­neer­ing firms and oth­ers mak­ing pro bono con­tri­bu­tions.

Wil­lis says it’s be­ing done de­spite reg­u­la­tory set­tings that are heav­ily bi­ased to­wards ‘think big’ projects.

“There are no feed-in tar­iffs and no recog­ni­tion of the value of dis­trib­uted gen­er­a­tion. The Brad­ford re­forms of the 1990s moved the elec­tric­ity sec­tor from ser­vice to profit, and that cre­ates dys­func­tion.

“One of the things the re­struc­tured ap­proach doesn’t re­spect is that we have the abil­ity to get con­nected to our elec­tric­ity, not just get a bill in our post. As one woman said in our com­mu­nity meet­ing, if she could see the wind farms go­ing, she would know when to put on her dish­washer and wash­ing ma­chine.

“It makes elec­tric­ity real in­stead of an ab­stract thing we get all the time and pay for.”

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