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