Towards power self sufficiency in the Gwydir Shire

August 7, 2011

Gwydir Shire Council has been endeavouring to secure a reduced carbon future using solar power since 2008. It supported Vision 2020 in hosting the Regenerative Energy for Rural Communities forum and has continued to lobby government for assistance to establish a solar power facility.

Currently, it is working with Paul Cruikshank, the Renewable Energy Co-ordinator for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, who is responsible for putting together a package of proposals from councils to present to the State Government.

Mr Cruikshank, who attended the special dinner meeting hosted by Vision 2020 at the Roxy two weeks ago, told the Advocate that Gwydir Shire Council’s proposal, which addresses both energy reduction and energy generation, is “fantastic”. He also told the Advocate that the meeting was “the best community meeting he had attended in a very long time.”

Council’s General Manager, Max Eastcott is passionate about alternative energy and looking after the environment.  He told the Advocate “I have always been of the view that we, as a community, must be better stewards of the environment that we live in. The question to me isn’t whether ‘enhanced Global Warming’ is human induced or not, but rather how can we stop being so wasteful?”

In April, 2008 Mr Eastcott wrote to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett advising him that “we would like to make both towns positive contributors to the power grid through the roll out of solar cells on every roof top, covering public and private buildings.”

The Council’s proposal was to broaden the scope of action to allow communities to collectively address the issue of alternative energy production with the support and assistance of the Government. The letter went on to say that “The main thrust to date from Governmental policy initiatives has been to encourage individual property owners to invest in the deployment of solar panels on their own property.

Our proposal is for an entire town to participate and, of course, if this is possible, the benefits to the reduction in greenhouse gases would be significantand also lead to creating, in part, the sustainable nature of our communities.“The eventual roll-out to each community would reduce the base power demand that drives the expansion of the coal based grid. Gwydir Shire is keen to be a pilot project in this scheme,” the letter said.

Minister Garrett in reply, set out the various government initiatives that individuals could consider applying for. Mr Eastcott wrote back saying that “The Council’s proposal was to broaden the scope of action to allow communities to collectively address the issue of alternative energy production, with the support and assistance of your Government.” Mr Garrett did not respond.

Mr Eastcott said in 2008 that “the current programs really do work against the poorer members of our community, who simply do not have the resources, not with standing the rebates available, to finance the initial costs involved in moving to solar power.  The current programs have a tendency to be a form of regressive taxation. These same people will require special attention within the budgetary process to offset the potentially crippling costs once the carbon emissions offset regime works its way through the system.”