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.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Standing up for renewables

Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal
The proverb for this principle "don't think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path" seemed appropriate for this post.

As a committee member of BEAM I helped write our submission to council with regards to the planning permit for the Cherry Tree Wind Farm. In our submission we raised some concerns that we felt needed to be addressed, but felt that, in balance "the overall benefits of the project outweigh the negative impacts", and were supportive of the proposal.

At a Special Council Meeting held last night, just 2 days before the conclusion of the council elections (held by postal vote), BEAM was invited along with other people who made submissions to present their case to council. The extraordinary meeting was called as Infigen (the developer) had put their case to VCAT because council had not made a decision on the development with the 60 day time period. I assume that council was forced by VCAT to take a position before the issue is presented to the tribunal early next month.

In the Agenda I discovered that there were 117 objections and just five letters of support. I heard that there were going to be over 40 presentations to council, each with a time limit of just three minutes. I suspected that BEAM would be the only ones who would be supportive of the development.

I helped prepare the speech and agreed to present it, being the only one in a position to do so. I had been concerned about presenting our position in front of a hostile crowd in the lead up to the meeting. Peter Lockyer was with me for support. I had never spoken in a formal setting such as this before and it wasn't until 36 negative presentations were made, many applauded before a group of well over a hundred supporters, that Mitchell Environment Advisory Committee (MSEAC) presented. In their speech they did not oppose the development and made suggestions on how to address some concerns about flora and fauna, which was detailed in their submission. This presentation was heckled briefly.

I was up next, and managed to read my presentation through without interruption or faltering, with just a few seconds to spare, to my own relief. My speech is reproduced below:
BEAM Mitchell Environment Group
Statement on Cherry Tree Wind Farm
Read to Mitchell Shire Council on 25th October 2012 
by Richard Telford, BEAM Publicity Officer

BEAM Mitchell Environment Group supports the development of wind farms in areas that have already been cleared of native vegetation and that have minimal overall impact on existing native flora and fauna.
We believe the Mitchell Shire Council should support the development of the Cherry Tree Wind Farm, in line with the vision for a sustainable future outlined in the recent Mitchell 2020 Community plan. The key Council vision statement, developed with community input, acknowledges both climate change and peak oil as significant challenges for our communities in the next decade and beyond.
Climate change will cause severe if not disastrous consequences for many people across the world, including Australia and here in Mitchell Shire. The evidence that this is caused by our use of fossil fuels is overwhelming. We have both moral and practical reasons to move away from a highly polluting coal industry towards renewable energy production.
Council’s role in responding to the challenges of climate change and peak oil is clearly articulated in the various sections of the Mitchell 2020 Community Plan. The role of council includes providing leadership and wisely using its planning powers.
Here is a key opportunity to provide leadership on a key challenge for our time, in line with the many shire residents who provided input to the development of this plan.
Renewable energy will come from a wide diversity of technologies that will balance the day-to-day variations in input from the sun, wind, tides etc. Wind power is one valuable source of renewable energy and is already a significant part of the mix of renewable energy sources across the world and in other parts of Australia. For example, in 2011-12, approximately one quarter of South Australia’s energy production was from wind power.
Any concerns about the location or building of wind farms should be considered alongside the benefits of reducing carbon emissions locally and compared with the negative impacts associated with fossil fuel power generation. We do not see why the bar for wind farms should be so much higher than for other developments.
We have some concerns in relation to the Cherry Tree Wind Farm, regarding the impact on native vegetation and wildlife, and these are fully outlined in our written submission. BEAM believes these issues can be adequately addressed within the planning permit process.
We feel that the benefits of the proposal outweigh the negative impacts, as it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a real need to transition to renewable energy sources, in response to declining resource availability and climate change. The wind farm appears to us to be well sited, is on already cleared land and we see opportunities to get good outcomes for the land and biodiversity of the area.
Immediately as I sat down a woman behind me asked me aggressively "Where do you live?", and the feeling in the room was hostile to say the least. A few more opposing presentations followed before the session ended. One man interjected and insisted that he be heard, which was denied (the session ran overtime), he later approached me and spoke told me in an unfriendly tone that I "didn't mention the people". Meanwhile two Infigen representatives were being abused by another woman. I got out of there and caught up the Infigen and MSEAC reps at a fish and chip shop for a drink to quench my dry throat, while we waited for the council meeting to be held soon after.

I watched four of the councilors present their positions on the development before walking out exasperated. All of them caved in to the pressure of the group before them, some were clearly supportive of wind energy, but "not in my backyard" (NIMBY). There was also an amazing conversion of councilors, along with objectors, to 'concern for wildlife' and a general support for renewables - people would just rather that it was somewhere else. Interesting how these people didn't listen to the ways in which issues regarding wildlife could be addressed by local, respected environmental representatives.

There was huge concern by local residents about possible health implications, I believe largely fed by the Australian Landscape Guardians and their relatives the Australian Environment Foundation and Waubra Foundation. I discovered an investigative article entitled "The ugly Landscape of the Guardians" about these groups recently that exposes them for who they really are. They have whipped up residents of the immediate area into a frenzy of worry, feeding on fears of the unknown. I believe that health fears are largely exaggerated, as Simon Chapman illustrates in his talk on ABC's Science Show: Curious distribution for wind turbine sickness.

I was asked why I supported the wind farm and have been thinking about it since. We (modern humans) depend heavily on energy for our way of life. I believe that 'we' are headed for a long period of energy descent, as the peaking of oil supplies and climate change events converge while economic conditions continue to deteriorate. We have a limited opportunity to use the currently available energy to build the infrastructure that can help glide us down the path towards a low energy future. The alternatives are not that attractive, collapse being one of them. For more about these "future scenarios" check out David Holmgren's essay of the same name. I see permaculture thinking as the only way out of the mess that we have created for ourselves.

I'm glad I stood up for what I believe in, even if I wasn't heard.

JUST IN: Have your say on the Renewable Energy Target that energy companies want to reduce. Let's set our own target.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Home grown popcorn

Principle 9: Use small and slow solutions

As an experiment in the garden a couple of years ago I planted some shop bought popcorn (from a bulk foods store) in the front yard. Most of it grew, but it wasn't much good for eating fresh, unless you picked it at just the right time. After it dried on the plant I gave most of it to the chickens. Then I got to thinking that I should try popping it. At first I didn't have much success, with not much of the corn popping. I think this has more to do with my technique than the corn itself, a technique that I have now perfected (the corn just burns if the pot isn't hot enough to pop it).
Our kids often have 'Corn Thins' as a snack, a commercial product made from popped corn. These are often buttered and painted with Vegemite. When you think of how much fat and salt is consumed with each one, popcorn with limited butter and salt is probably a healthier alternative.

Corn grown from shop bought popcorn seed, 2nd generation.
The following season I tried again, using the second generation corn seed. After the plants and cobs dried out I harvested them and stored them in the cool cupboard. When the kids call for a snack we thumb off the corn from a couple of cobs, heat a pot (gas on full) with a tablespoon or two of Rice Bran Oil until the oil is real hot. Then we tip in the corn and give the pot a bit of a wobble from time to time. It usually all pops within a minute or two - which the kids love to watch through the glass lid. I tip the popped corn into a large bowl, and then add a knob of butter into the hot pot. The heat from the pot is enough to melt the butter which is then tipped slowly over the corn. With a pinch or two of salt it's ready to eat, and the kids love it. Good for a family movie session too.

Dried popcorn cobs. Kernels are 'thumbed' off into a bowl in preparation for popping.

Two full cobs make a large bowl of popcorn, a great snack for the kids.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Curved reo used as trellis

Principle 12: Creatively Use and Respond to change

I've become a big fan of reinforcing mesh (reo) as trellis around the garden. When the mesh is curved it has strength to stand on it's own and support plants. With a small backyard we need to be creative in how we can use vertical space and provide other functions at the same time, like shade.

I've been thinking about how to best shade the decking in summer for quite a while. Peter had suggested sails - but there is a need to remove them during the cooler months, which often doesn't get done, reducing the advantages of passive solar design. I wanted to use deciduous fruiting plants instead, as they perform multiple functions and change with the seasons.
What put me off using mesh earlier on is that I felt that the space would become too enclosed and feel like a prison. Mesh does have an industrial feel to it. I got around this but using three strips of heavy duty reo, running wires between them which will eventually support grape vines. I'm going to play with the plants as they grow up the trellis, guiding them on their journey. In time it will look beautiful.

Gaps were left in between the trellis to allow for solar access (for solar oven) and a place to sit to enjoy the garden. The curve gives the reo (reinforcing mesh) strength.
8mm reo-trellis with 200mm squares inserted into holes in the gutter support beam

The base of the trellis had it's end cut off and pressed into the ground 200mm. It was then fixed to the decking for support. A Ruby Seedless table grape was planted at the base.

Three trellis sections with wires linking them cover the entire deck, which will eventually be covered in grape vines and an espaliered apple tree
I used three sheets of thinner mesh (5mm with 200mm squared) around the water tanks and in the netted orchard, with 2.4m star pickets at either end to hold the shape. The bottom row of the mesh was removed and ends pressed into the ground, the curve the top holds its shape pretty well. A gap of about 300mm between the tank and the mesh allows for picking / pruning access and should provide enough space (with maintenance) so that the tree does not rub the galvanised protective layer off the water tank. The water tank should provide a micro-climate that will benefit the fruit tree and can act as a support to help net the tree as the fruits ripen.
The mesh was snaked in the netted orchard / chookyard to give it strength and support. It also provides more growing space in a smaller area and with the different angles should help the fruit to ripen over a longer period. The small corrugated iron fence faces the sun and will provide an ideal space for espaliered fruit trees. I've planted a quince, with the thought that the chickens might leave it alone and a fig, just because I had one sitting around. Eventually I'll set up a grey water system to irrigate the trees.

Used around main water tank with grafted plum (on cherry plum stock) espaliered around the water tank which will help keep it cool during summer.

Reo-trellis curved around cellar / water tank with grafted plum being espaliered to proved shade. There is a 300mm gap to prevent the tree rubbing off the galvanised coating on the tank.
Snaking reo trellis in chook yard with beginnings of espaliered apple / plum / apple. Berries planted against trellis on far wall, fig and quince on short north facing (sunward) wall on the left. Rubble around base of plants to prevent chickens digging up roots.

UPDATE: 17th October

After a comment from an online guest I was inspired to fit corks to the ends of the reinforcing mesh, to head height - to reduce the change of injury. I'd had a shopping bag of corks hanging around since my days of living at Commonground, a venue where groups and residents don't mind a drink every now and then. Back in the old days... corks were used in wine bottles too, but I found that the larger champagne corks were better suited and I had enough for the job.
I held the corks in place with a vice and used a 7mm drill bit for the holes, making sure that I didn't go all the way through. With the mesh being 8mm the fit was tight enough that the cork shouldn't come off too easily.

Champagne corks added to the decking reo-trellis to reduce injury of potential sudden impact

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Roof top maintenance

Principle 6: Produce no waste

An important element to the principle of produce no waste is regular maintenance. Often maintenance is left too late and requires major work or replacement. If done on a timely basis it's not a big job at all.

The reason I went up onto the roof in the first place was to investigate a bird that was stuck in our chimney. On investigation I discovered that the the bird was stuck at the base of the chimney, not nesting at the top, which was my original thought. When I lifted the flue from the stove top two Indian Myna birds took off and flew about our living room, giving us all a bit of a fright. It had been over two years that we had moved in and this was the first time that this had occurred, I decided to leave the top of the flue uncovered figuring the chance of reoccurence slim.

When on the roof I noticed that the Solar PV Panels needed a clean, so I did so. I decided that this should be part of my 6 monthly maintenance regime, which includes termite inspections - made around the equinox each year.

Cleaning solar PV panels, you can see one in the middle that I missed
Cleaning flat plate solar hot water panels, the first time in two years.
 I'd known for a long time that I needed to do something about the lagging on the hot water system. I could see that the foam was deteriorating in the sun. On closer inspection I realised that is was much worse than I thought. This would take more than a coat of UV paint to maintain.

Lagging on our hot water system pipes was deteriorating from sun damage

Solar hot water system pipes left uncovered and exposed to the elements
Some underfloor insulation material left over would be suitable for the job of re-lagging the pipes. I used heavy duty tape to wrap it up, and painted the lot with acrylic paint, for UV protection. I'm hoping that this will last up to ten years, but will have to keep my eye on it.
I'd read in ReNew magazine about the wiring box for the heating element on the hot water tank being uninsulated. We are not using our heating element so I used some left over wool to fill the void and insulate the tank further. I also fitted the end covers that came with the system, helping to further protect the exposed pipework.

Left over underfloor insulation taped around water pipes to protect and further insulate

Pipes re-lagged. Small tank to the left is the expansion tank for the wetback (wood fired hot water heating).
The wiring box for the heating element of the hot water tank, which is unused, was filled with wool to insulate the tank.

End cover for water tank fitted, pipes re-lagged and painted for UV protection.
Just a day after having removed the birds from the flue we discovered another bird within the outer casing of the stove itself - it was probably there the whole time. It was stuck in the lower soot tray and took a bit of gentle persuasion to get out, alive but a well blackened blackbird. It did a great job off cleaning the soot out from around the firebox, but I decided to cover the flue with mesh to prevent further bird entries.

Wire over stove flue to prevent bird entry

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