Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The winds of change

Principle 1: Observe and interact

Speaking is Martin May (Treasurer) and Tracy Anthony (CEO) of Hepburn Wind. To the left of them (hands on hips) is Craig Memery from the ATA, a renewable and smart networks specialist to offer independent information about the technologies. To the right of Tracy is Marju Tonisson, Communications Coordinator from Infigen Energy.
Proposed development near Seymour
The Cherry Tree Wind Farm, located about 15km east of Seymour, is in the early stages of development. The plan (not yet submitted to council) is to install 12-16 turbines to generate about 40-50MW, sufficient to power about 22,000 'normal' homes. The size of the project is limited mainly by the capacity of the nearby transmission lines. Infigen Energy (an Australian company) have held a couple of information sessions late last year in from people about the proposal along with an independent acoustic expert to answer questions. Unfortunately we didn't make it to the sessions. There has been quite a reaction about the proposed development's impact in the local newspapers since, most of which is quite outrageous.
The company was a late addition to the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo where they displayed some photo montages of what the windfarm could look like from various locations and to explain to people where the project was and what was intended (see below), as well as answer questions. The staff there also invited people to vote on whether they supported the project or not, and to the surprise of many, there was overwhelming (93%) support at the end of the event (177 votes for and 14 against). I saw staff count some of the votes and didn't see a 'no' vote, though I saw quite a few votes that included personal details, but didn't actually vote. I think that this indicates that there is a small group of people who object in a loud way.
The results from Infigen's own poll is supported by CSRIO research regarding community acceptance of rural wind farms. The CSIRO's preliminary study produced four key findings:
  1. There is strong community support for the development of wind farms.
  2. Many of the benefits can be shared or communicated in ways that would enhance community support for the development of wind farms in a region.
  3. Existing regulatory approaches provide an appropriate framework for negotiating wind farm developments, but there is scope for improving outcomes.
  4. The emerging notion of a ‘Social Licence to Operate’ provides a useful framework for wind farm developers to engage local communities in ways that could enhance transparency and local support.
Cherry Tree Wind Farm propsed location along with photomontage locations
View of proposed wind farm from Fairview Road
View of proposed wind farm from Kobyboyn Road
View of proposed wind farm from Chetwynd Road
View of proposed wind farm from Telegraph Road
View from Trawool Valley Resort
    Hepburn Wind Farm Tour
    Infigen invited local residents to a tour of the Hepburn Community Wind Farm with independent renewable energy expert Craig Memery from the ATA, in order to address some of the concerns raised and give people an experience of a Wind Farm development - though considerably smaller than the proposed one at Cherry Tree Hill. We decided to make a family outing of the opportunity so that we could see first hand this exciting project near Daylesford, initiated by local people to generate community power (enough to power Daylesford and surrounds), making the whole area more self reliant. About 24 people from around Seymour attended to see first hand the scale of the towers, get a sense of their impact and hear the noise they generate.
    Stopping for a quick lunch in Daylesford we could see the turbines in the distance, some 10km south - quite small on the horizon. We stopped about 3km away from the towers to see if we could hear them, meeting (by chance) a local artist who lived there, who told us that he'd never been able to hear them - and we certainly couldn't.
    My immediate impression as we arrived was how huge and elegant they were, like gentle giants. Standing right beneath them it was quite easy to hear our hosts Martin and Tracy talk about the project. The air conditioner inside the tower (to cool electronics) made more noise than the turbine itself from where we were standing. There was a faint whistling noise and the swish of blades as they cut through the air, some 20m above.
    One of the people who joined us on the tour (in his own car) turn out to be a provocateur (in my opinion) who caused quite a bit of angst. I got quite agitated and asked him to give other people a go, and he quietened down somewhat - enjoying a smoke when asked not to as a condition of entry. There was quite a few other concerns that were raised, and responded to, mainly by ATA guest Craig. 

    Impacts of a Wind Farm development
    There is no doubt that there are local impacts from a development of this scale. I think that it's important to note that while this development seems quite large, it's on the smaller side of a modern wind farms, with 52 in Australia over 100MW (Cherry Tree being less than half of that). Wind energy currently contributes to 2% of the grid in Australia, whilst we currently aim for 20% renewables by 2020.

    Some of the perceived impacts:
    • one question that comes that came out during the tour was about the Electromagnetic Radiation  (EMR). Craig gave the example that maintenance workers on the towers are exposed to more EMRs by their mobile phones than by the turbines that they are working on.
    • he pointed out that there are no proven health impacts from wind turbines, saying that people are affected by stress - caused by the aversion to the wind farm project. There are plenty of example of health impacts from fossil fuel alternative like coal and nuclear.
    • one of the ongoing environmental impacts of having the turbines is that it is expected that each turbine will cause the death of one bird per year. In a poorly placed development this number could be much higher. To put this in perspective though, a single transport truck can kill more birds in a year than the whole proposed development. For threatened bird and bat species nearby this could be a significant issue that may need to be addressed.
    • the high embodied energy in the infrastructure, which is apparently recovered by energy produced in around 3-6 months of operation.
    • the damage to the environment during construction i.e. the construction of roads and clearing of the site (if necessary) which are site specific and can often be addressed as part of the building permit.
    • while major studies have found that there has been "no statistical evidence that wind farms reduce property values
    Wind turbines are currently our cheapest large scale renewable energy option to supplement the grid, reducing the necessity for heavily polluting and toxic fossil fuel based energy generation like brown  / black coal and nuclear energy. Reduced energy use needs to also become part of this mix.
      The 'corporation'
      I sensed that there was a scepticism about corporations in general by the group, which is fair enough from my experience. Big business had in the past attempted to pull the wool over our eyes (tobacco smoking, thalidomide). This is becoming more difficult for corporations in the information age, as was the case for Nike and slave labour.
      The staff from Infigen that I met came across as passionate about their work, open, transparent and up-front about what they wanted to do. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that the company is looking into forming a Wind Co-op, in which it was proposed that one of the turbines could be owned by the Co-op. The big advantage in this scenario is that, with the economies of scale, the Co-op turbine and tower could be installed and maintained at minimal cost. This concept was supported by the Hepburn Wind representatives.
      The Hepburn Wind model shows that the development can (if this model were adopted) have a positive impact on the community, local economic climate and make a significant contribution to local community groups. This has given me the feeling that the community could benefit greatly from working with, rather than against, this particular corporation. The potential is there.

      Monday, February 13, 2012

      A carport without the car

      Principle 7: Design from patterns to details

      We've always wanted an undercover outdoor space so we can enjoy the outdoors whatever the weather. It's the sun more than the rain that prevents us from having meals outside, especially at this time of the year (mid-summer). The temptation to shade the north (sun) facing deck with sails has been there, but from what I've seen is that once they are set up they are rarely taken down when they should be; which defeats the purpose of passive solar design.
      I've found that we use our north deck as a space to make the most of the sun, for drying clothes and for dehydrating food. I'm keen to make a solar cooker for use in this space too, as the deck has great access to the kitchen. In the longer term I think that a deciduous vine would be welcomed over most of the deck, leaving some space open to take advantage of the sun's free energy.
      While thoughts of the best way to make use of our primary outdoor space (the deck) has been developing we have been making more and more use of our existing carport. It's east facing, so it's quite cool in the afternoons and is in close proximity to the cellar (where the homebrew is stored). I had a large number of salvaged bricks left over and have had these in mind for paving the carport. There wasn't enough of the same type to do the whole job so I played around with some concepts on the computer, with the idea of the bricks being pixels. While 'PacMan' and 'Space Invader' designs did progress, I decided on a chess board layout - with the idea that we could use the space to play.

      A computer layout for the paving concept using a chessboard theme
      With uneven, dusty ground (which became muddy pools with heavy rains) the carport was not an inviting space to hang out in. The idea was to lift the ground level to the height of the cellar stairway, leaving just enough room for the van to squeeze in. This would help integrate the cellar with the paved area which links to the back door of the house and nearby shed / workshop and help keep the area free or dust. This space has been used for talks to groups, holding the black market, gatherings of friends, meals area and for furniture construction along with it's original function as a place to park and work on the van.
      Two cubic metres of local sand were used in construction, mainly in leveling the ground. A level wooden form was set up to guide the sand level with a long metal pipe used to screed and roll the sand flat. This was done one row at a time using water and an old door handle to compact the sand, with the pole and 10mm wooden spacers to align the bricks. Each brick was cleaned thoroughly with a wire brush and tapped down with a rubber mallet.

      Carport area debris cleaned up and a level form set up on either side, to hold sand in place

      The sand was watered each row and leveled out with a long metal pole which was used as both a screed and rolling pin. The door handle shown was used to compress the sand before the laying of bricks.

      One set of bricks was laid out at either end and the pole was used as a guide for laying the remaining bricks. Each brick had any mortar removed using a wire brush to ensure it laid flat.
      Once the bricks were all set in place we spread sand over them to reduce movement while we continued works. Salvaged ceramic pipes and reo off-cuts were used along with just the the right amount of sand / aggregate mix that I found 100m away on the side of the road. I made up cement as a ramp over the pipe, to level around the entrance of the cellar and as a frame for the bricks, to prevent the sand from washing out and to hold the bricks in place. Once the 'frame' dried I compacted the sand further with water and added more where it needed it. The brick have settled into place well without the need to cement them in, meaning that the surface can absorb moisture through the gaps.
      The only thing that I've purchased so far was two bags of cement and the packing sand (about A$90 all up) and about two weeks to complete (amongst other things).
      I'm looking at getting some local river stone to level the ground between the paving and the cellar / house. I'm looking to oil some of the red bricks to highlight the 'chessboard', and use a large tray to cover the brick and prevent oil dripping from the old van and staining the bricks when (or if) I park it there.

      Sand was spread out over the finished brick paving to reduce movement before we walked over them.

      Pipe set in sand at front of carport, with reinforcing steel set above in preparation for concrete pour.

      The sand was moistened before removing the wooden form in preparation for a concrete border

      A concrete border was added to prevent the sand from washing out and the bricks from moving

      Completed paving area in the carport, which has now become our outdoor summer entertaining area, with the van relegated to the outdoors