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.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 Sustainable House Day

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

Abdallah House will be open for Sustainable House Day on Sunday the 9th of September 2012, from 10am till 4pm. It's a nation-wide (Australia) free event and everyone is invited. No need to book, just turn up on the day to: 1a Abdallah Road, Seymour, Victoria. Peter Lockyer, the builder / architect that I worked with on the project will also be here to answer questions.

Here's a speil from the event organisers:
Sustainable House Day gives people the chance to get a real-life look inside houses that have been designed, built or fitted out with sustainability in mind and talk to owners, receiving unbiased advice.As event organisers we’re seeing greater investment in harvesting water and solar energy as communities realise our resources are finite and likely to become more expensive. By becoming energy efficient today, you’ll be on the front foot to save on energy bills and help the environment now and into the future.
Sustainable House Day,  provides a chance for people to exchange ideas and learn from each other and visits to the houses are free of charge – so it will cost nothing to see how easy and economical the move to greener living can be.
In some other news... Abdallah House has been named a finalist in the 'Custom Built Homes' and 'Resource Efficiency' categories at the 2012 HIA GreenSmart Awards. The Awards will be announced in Sydney on the 6th of September, and Kunie (my partner) and I will be attending - with our fingers crossed.

See feedback from the day here

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Communicated diseases

Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services

An article, entitled Wind turbine syndrome:a classic 'communicated' disease written by Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at Sydney University - describes how opponents claim and extraordinary array of health problems associated with wind farms. Towards the end of the article he writes:

"When anti-wind farm leaders move around communities, sometimes with entrepreneurial lawyers, spreading anxiety that the turbines can harm heath, we can get a potent combination of poorly informed, worried and angry residents seeded with the idea that their protests might lead to a payout." He goes on to say "Fortunately, anti-wind farm voices in the bush are in a small minority, as this CSIRO study shows."
As the wind farm issue heats up opposition groups, like the Orwellian named 'Australian Environment Foundation' and 'Landscape Guardians', hold local meetings to enlist locals and attempt to divide the local community by misinformation about the health impacts of the proposed wind farm. This letter to the editor is a sign of things to come...

Letter to the editor in North Central Review, 28th August 2012
The danger in responding to the unsubstantiated claims of health issues, like this, is that one might appear to lack concern for locals welfare. This is certainly not the case. What I've done in this letter to the editor is to look at the big picture and not get dragged into a crazy argument that further divides the community. I'm interested to see what response I get.

Renewable VS  non-renewable energy

It's become clear that the human race cannot continue to extract fossil fuels at the current rate. At the same time demand for goods, food, water and energy is increasing along with the population. How are we going to maintain a high standard of living as resources continue to diminish?
First and foremost we need to reduce our own personal energy use. The typical Australian household uses around 16-20kWh per day. This can quite easily be reduced by switching lights and appliances off (at the power point) when not in use. We can also make more efficient use of electricity by generating it closer to where we use it.
Just as we see individual households doing this with the installation of solar systems we can do this on a regional level by adopting larger scale renewable systems, like wind energy - which uses less resources to construct than solar PV for greater returns.
There is no doubt that clean energy sources like solar and wind have an affect our environment, but they are far less damaging to the earth than fossil fuel based energy that also pollutes, contributing to climate change.
While renewables are a BIG step forward in reducing our impact on the planet, the most effective way to reduce your ecological footprint is to grow your own food. That has whole multitude of benefits, not just for the planet, but for your health too.

Richard Telford

Saturday, August 25, 2012

1 year of Solar PV

Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy

Making use of the sun - face your house the right way and it's easy!
Image of Abdallah House featured in the 2013 Permaculture Calendar

In my last Solar PV post, about a six months ago I mention the challenges that we were having getting the Premium Feed-In Tariff (PFiT) that we signed up for. It was a very long process to get sorted out, but we got there eventually. For those of you that are interested you can follow the story later in this post - The battle for our PFiT.
I really wanted to focus this post on our reduced energy use since installing our own solar PV system. I've found that when I take personal responsibility for collecting resources myself (like electricity / water / wood) I respect those resources more and reduce my consumption. I have a greater awareness of how much energy there is around me and how to make the best use of it.

Electricity use for the year 29/7/11 - 29/7/12

(conservative estimates made in June 2011, before system was installed)

Total energy generated by our 1.5kW solar PV system: 2274 kW/h
(376 kWh more than my estimate of 1898 kWh - 5.2kWh per day)
Total energy exported to the grid from our PV system 1878.5 kW/h
(We exported 418 kWh more than I estimated)
Total energy imported from the grid: 457.1 kW/h
(We imported 200 kWh less than I estimated)

kW/h directly consumed from solar PV: 2274 - 1878.5 = 395.5 kW/h
(43kWh less than my estimates)
Total kW/h used from solar PV plus total imported from grid: 395.5 + 457.1 =  852.6 kW/h
(243 kWh less than I estimated, which was 3kWh per day)
Average energy use per day 2.34 kW/h per day, last year 2.87 kW/h per day

Typical household (av 2.7 people) use in NSW is around 7300 kW/h per year, we used 852.6 kW/h  with a family of four - or about 12% (1/8th) of the electricity of a typical household. This is including supplying power for a home business and pressure for our own water system. It's also good to consider that we prepare most of our own food from scratch and spend the majority of our time at home with the kids.

My estimates before getting the system installed was that we would generate a revenue of about $640 per year, an amount that would reduce as power costs increase. Over the first 11 months we actually received about $800. I attribute the larger amount to both the 23% reduction in energy use since installing solar system, which I didn't factor into my equations. There's a real incentive to reduce power use when good FiT's are made available - the more you export, the more income you generate. Also, the system generated more electricity than I anticipated, resulting in a higher income.

We became more vigilant at turning the switch off at the power point, rather than leaving appliances left on stand-by and are also more aware of turning lights off when not needed. I also installed an Embertec Smart Switch for our computer. Whenever the computer - any type of computer - goes into standby, hibernate or off mode, power is removed from all of the connected peripheral devices. Power is immediately and automatically restored when the computer is reactivated in the normal way. The thing that I don't like about this system is that it ejects mounted external hard drives when ever the computer goes to standby. I got this device for free as part of a local program, but I think that most people would be better off to switch the power off at the point if it's easy to reach, if not then purchase a remote power point and move the switch to a more convenient location. If you can't remember to to this then the Embertec product could be a wise investment.

Solar Feed-In Tariff reductions

While I demonstrated that a good feed-in tariff provides an incentive to reduce energy use (and therefore carbon emissions) the state government is looking to drastically reduce them. This letter to the editor appeared in one of our local papers that demanded a response. I wrote a follow-up letter to the editor, as part of my role in BEAM, our environment group, explaining the real value of feed-in tariffs, and why a fair tariff should should be allocated.

Letter to the editor of the Northern Central Review from the Minister for Energy and Resources

Response to ministerial letter to the editor sent to several local newspapers in the region from BEAM

The battle for our PFiT

21st March 2012 - posted on the ATA forum 

I got a 1.5kW system installed through Origin in July 2011, letting them know at the time that I wanted a PFiT (a 66c rate that was on offer at the time to stimulate the industry). After a notice from ATA that the PFiT was ending I rang up to confirm that I was actually receiving it I rang up Origin to confirm. I found out that I needed to fill out a contract and send it to them before I could get it! I received an email back confirming that I would receive the PFiT. Glad I called them. I wrote about this on my blog.

The first 'bill' I got was 6 months later, and guess what? No PFiT. After trying to contact them on several occasions I eventually got through and was told that there was a problem. I wasn't going to get the PFiT and THEY ADMITTED FAULT. I got this in writing too. I worked out that they will owe me about $15,000 - based on current figures. I wrote about this in my blog too:

Origin have not yet made me an offer since they admitted fault in January. I have been on their case ever since and got in touch with the Ombudsman in February, 3 weeks ago. Their time is now up.

Origin claim that there are other people with the same issue and that they are working out how to deal with this at higher management. Just wondering if there is anyone else out there in the same boat and what they are doing about it? Any other advice.

Origin make a ridiculously low offer followed by another low offer

The first was one year of estimated income from PFiT that I would miss out on plus $500 for the trouble. $1400 in all. I rejected the offer.

Next was an offer of $3500 - which I rejected based on the fact that Origin told me that I would be fully compensated for not getting the PFiT.

22nd May 2012 - letter to  Ombudsmen Conciliator

I now have updated my claim with more recent figures in how much electricity I export to the grid.

From 29/7/11 (date system was turned on) until 22/5/12 the system exported 1725.6 kW/h, averaging 5.81 kW/h per day.

365 x 5.81kW/h = 2120.65 kW/h over one year.

I signed up for the PFiT on the 11th of August 2011. I understand that the PFiT runs until 1st November 2024, which is about 13.25 years that I should be receiving the PFiT. 13.25 years x 2120.65 kW/h per year = 28,098 kW/h over the life of the contract.

The difference between the standard feed in tariff and the PFiT is (66c - 23.5c) 42.5c.

I expect that I would miss out on (28,098 x .425) $11,941 over the life of the contract based on these figures. That is my claim for compensation for which Origin has admitted fault and assured me that I would receive. This is about $3,000 lower than my original claim, as I assumed that the contract was for 15 years from when I installed the system.

When Origin makes an offer of compensation then I expect that I will be "fully compensated for the PFiT" as they have told me via email. I would like to see how they calculate any subsequent offer to ensure that I am fully compensated.

18th June 2012 - posted on the ATA forum

Since rising through the ranks of the EWOV (Ombudsman) with my case, and the matter continually escalating (how high can it go?) we finally came to a resolution.

After the admission of fault from Origin that I was not signed up for the PFiT, and assurance that I would be fully compensated I was initially offered one years export (difference of what I should have been getting and what I got) plus $500 for my trouble. $1400 in all. The contract was for 13 years so I refused - not fully compensated.
Next I was offered a flat $3500 from Origin, which was was I paid for the system. Again I refused as that was not what I signed up for, nor full compensation.
I reduced my request for settlement to $12,000, based on the contract being shorter than I originally thought it was (13 years, not 15 years), and using readings over a longer period to base an estimate. I later found out that this should have increased as the FiT that I was getting will soon (probably) be lowered.
Finally I was told that I WAS in fact signed up for the PFiT, and that I would be receiving the 66c tariff. So I am to be paid what I am owed since signing up on 11th August last year, am on the PFiT (so I can transfer to another retailer), and will get a $500 credit as compensation.

Thanks for the advice and support from Damien and Craig from the ATA. I'm glad I stuck it out and continued to pressure Origin. Also thanks to the EMOV conciliator - I don't feel that this could have been resolved by going directly to Origin. I'd highly recommend complaining to the Ombudsman if you can't resolve an issue with your energy retailer directly.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cherry Tree Windfarm site visit

Principle 4: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

Infigen development manger Laura Dunphy (left) with BEAM committee members Peter Mitchell and Richard Telford. Photo: Lesley Dalziel.
The Cherry Tree Wind Farm has moved to the planning stage with the application submitted to council. There's a one month window for community feedback, which officially ends on the 17th of August, but will continue until council makes a decision about it.
The proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm site is located on the Cherry Tree Range, between Whiteheads Creek and Trawool, approximately 80 km north-east of Melbourne and 15 km south-east of Seymour. Project Site is accessed via Homewood Road. It's a $100 million development, easily the largest in the region.

The proposal includes:

  • Construction of 16 wind turbines with a height of approximately 150 metres (poles height of 100 metres and blade height of 50 metres)
  • Associated infrastructure including a substation, overhead and underground cabling, site office and an operations building
  • Earthworks to allow access to the site
  • Removal of native vegetation to facilitate access and infrastructure on the site
Of particular interest to the BEAM committee, which Peter Mitchell and I represent, is the affect on the existing flora and fauna. It comes in two parts; the impact of the transport to the construction site (maily habitat trees along the route) and the impact on wildlife (mainly birds and bats) at the construction site.

On our first visit we were interested in the route and what vegetation would be impacted. The heaviest item is the Main transformer, with a combined weight of 120 tons, which may present some technical difficulties. The most challenging to the vegetation is the blades which are up to 60m long. That's fine when you travel in a straight line, but runs into issues when you try and turn a corner. The 'sweep' is the space needed for the blade as the vehicle turns.

Up to 96 x 60m long trucks will deliver the blades for the turbines during the early morning hours

The Traffic and Transport Assessment shows the proposed route comes along the Western Ring Road and up the Hume Fwy, turning off at Tallarook. It then follows the Upper Goulburn Road, Goulburn Valley Hwy and on to Kobyboyn Road. All of these roads are sealed and should not present any big challenges. Even the turn into the unsealed Homewood Road should be pretty straight forward (after some rebuilding).
Some significant works will need to be done to the road so that it can cope with the estimated 9000+ traffic movements during the one year construction phase, including 1550 concrete truck runs and 128 tower section deliveries.
The road is fairly straight for the most part and trees along the route should be largely unaffected. There are a number of smaller trees that will need to be removed, but from our visit it appeared that no habitat trees would need to be removed. We have requested that when the engineers assess the road for trees that do need to be removed, that they are marked and that BEAM representatives can view the trees in question before they are felled, to ensure that they are not trees high habitat value or that felling can be avoided.
What we did notice along Homewood Road was a significant amount of fallen timber along the road reserve, which is of high value to ground dwelling creatures. The reserve is largely unfenced on once side and grazed, so there is virtually no understory. We have been told that the roadside would be fenced as part of the development which would help to ensure that the understory can return.

Homewood Road is largely unfenced. Infigen will fence this stretch which will help the understory recover from grazing and protect the habitat logs along the road reserve.
The most difficult section of Homewood Road for the 60m long trucks to navigate at the small creek crosssing, where there is a tight turn. We have suggested that the road is resited through this nearby clearing.
Access road will be resited from this point and continue on to the existing track that can be seen leading up to the ridge, with little impact on vegetation.

On our second visit we arrived at the highest point of the range near the 100m high Meteorlogical Mast. One of the first things that we noticed was a community of five Wedge-tailed Eagles flying nearby. From what we understand the ridge provides habitat to a large number of rabbits, which is a great food source for the birds of prey, probably the reason they were there. The eagles were not within the Rotor Swept Area (RSA) where they could potentially collide, but they were not far away either. We were told that animal carcases would be removed from anwhere near the towers to reduce the attraction for birds of prey, but there was no plan to keep rabbits away from the site. This is an issue that we felt needed to be addressed.
The Flora, Fauna, Habitat Hectare and Net Gain Assessment that was presented to council did not observe many birds of prey, in fact it was one of the lowest recorded rates at wind farms sites investigated in SE Australia - perhaps it was the just time of year? I noted in the report (p54) that "The wedge-tailed Eagle is of potential concern, as it has been found to collide with wind turbines elsewhere." The report also stated that "no eagle nest was detected within the study area, but suitable nesting habitat occurred in the surrounding region, particularly in the Tallrook ranges, which are less than 5km from the wind farm site."
The report states that bird and bat migration seems not to be a major issue for us here in Australia, as it is in Europe and the USA, as most species are nomadic and "the impact of turbine blades on birds appears small, but mortality does occur, keeping in mind that mortality rates are very site specific."

The Wedge-tailed Eagle community let us know that they are living in the area. We saw five of them close to the Meteorogical Mast.

100m tall(?) Meteorogical Mast, about the same height at the wind turbines.
While some vegetation will need to be removed in order to construct the towers, the impact on the exisiting vegetation appears minimal as the land is mostly cleared and heavily grazed. While there are some concerns, that we feel need to be addressed, the overall benefits of the project far outweigh the negative impacts.  Personnaly, I'd much rather have a wind farm nearby than a nuclear power plant / radioactive dump / coal powered power station or Hydraulic Fracking (for natural gas).

Infigen development manager Laura Dunphy and BEAM with Peter Mitchell and Lesley Dalziel viewing turbine sites along the ridge.

Friday, August 10, 2012

'Relocalising our Food System' presentation

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

I have been a committee member of BEAM, our local environment group over the past year and have taken on the revitalisation of the newsletter. I've had some great feedback on what has been achieved and plan to continue this work over the next year. The newsletter has a shire wide focus and is available to members of the group, the website and facebook pages are kept up to date of what BEAM are up to along with other items of interest.
I invited David Holmgren and Su Dennett to present at our AGM this year and am glad to say that they were happy to join us. The presentation, 'Relocalising our Food System: Theroy and Practice' will focus on how we can become more self-reliant by producing food closer to where we live.
I've been interested in getting our members more active in what the group is up to, so when the idea of a BYO local food dinner came up I got very excited. It was inspired by the "Food Revolution" dinner held at the same venue a few months earlier and ties in well with the presentation. It also challenges our members and guests to get more active and think about how to positively respond the changes thet lie ahead.
If you are interested in coming along then you'd better book now, as I know that places are running out. See the invitation attached.

For more about permaculture co-originator David Holmgren visit his website:
For more about what Su Dennett is up to visit the Hepburn Relocalistion Network

Article that appeared in the Seymour Telegraph on the 8th of August 2012
An invitation to the BEAM AGM and presentation by David and Su

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