Z-NET Uralla Inc.
President’s Report for AGM, 1 September 2018
It is with much pleasure that I provide the following report on Z-NET Uralla activities since our incorporation in March 2017. The period has seen Z-NET continue with key activities in the area of energy efficiency and solar PV for homes and businesses. School activities have been expanded and we have new project work on sustainable firewood. A significant development in the last few months has been the arrival of a number of solar farm developers planning large scale installations, and in some cases offering community benefit sharing initiatives. More details on each of these areas is provide below.
Household Energy and Solar Z-NET has continued to deliver a number of services for our households even without formal project support from external agencies. Through our volunteer efforts and own fund raising Trish Rasmussen has continued undertaking Home Energy Reviews, with a focus on rental properties and low income households requiring assistance with energy costs. Z-NET volunteers have assisted a number of residents to resolve inflated power bills due to incorrect meter readings and to guide people to lower cost electricity plans. Referrals to the Energy Made Easy website (https://www.energymadeeasy.gov.au/) has become the mantra for Trish and Peter Low!
Z-NET has partnered with non-for-profit organisation CORENA to deliver a win-win outcome to tenants and landlords for solar panel installation, reducing energy costs for the tenant and improving the capital value and rentability of the property for the landlord.
Our efforts were featured in a Renew Economy article in September 2017 and in our Z-NET videos (just search Z-NET Uralla on YouTube) of local homes where great strides have been made towards energy efficiency, solar power and improved thermal performance.
Z-NET Uralla has reached out to community organisations to help improve energy matters, including the Uralla Pre-school in scoping out their pattern of power use and plans for swapping to solar generation.
We had a stall at Seasons of New England in March 2018 with a massive crowd of people calling in for advice on solar, energy, home insulation, electricity plans, firewood and lighting. We also set up at the Kentucky Markets and Bundara Show over the last 12 months to bring access to information to the villages in our Shire. Z-NET was present at the Council Community day and ran our Street Stall in May. The success of all of these efforts are very much down to our wonderful volunteers and executive.
We have run a number of the very popular curtain making workshops, helping residents to cosy up their homes for winter as well as making curtains and draft stoppers to be distributed to low income homes through support groups in Uralla.
In June 2017, we completed the Destination Uralla project (funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Energise Enterprise Fund) and farewelled our great coordinator Steve Griffith. This project worked with over 20 Uralla small businesses to help identify sources of energy use, options for reducing energy use and improving efficiency, and planning how to switch to renewable energy. Since this project we have seen a number of businesses including Café Gusto, Alternate Root and Imacka property install solar PV.
Of late Peter Low has been working with more businesses as time allows including the newly opened Pie Mechanic, to help understand what is using the most power and how this can be reduced.
Action learning projects have been undertaken with the Middle School students at Uralla Central School in both the winter of 2017 and 2018. This has been under the umbrella of the CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools Program with lots of support from Z-NET volunteers.
This winter two homes of Middle School students have been monitored to measure firewood use, temperatures in the home and electricity/gas use. This data is being used in class to look at the relationship between firewood use, room temperatures, heat loss and the overall use of energy in the home during cold weather. Come spring we will commence biodiversity assessments with the students to look at the role of dead wood in woodland ecosystems.
We also visited Bundarra Central School to set up similar activities and will undertake biodiversity assessments with the students on local properties in the spring.
Questacon have recognised the innovation of Z-NET Uralla and are filming in the Shire in mid-September 2018 to make a video to be used nationally in their high school students Enterprising Australians series.
Elephant in the Woodland
In March 2018, we commenced a new externally funded project called the Elephant in the Woodland, funded by NSW Environmental Trust Education Fund. The Elephant in our Woodlands is the amount of firewood harvested for winter heating and the need to make sure it is sustainable/renewable. The project was launched by our local Member Adam Marshall and we introduced “Zigby” our mascot elephant who has now attended a number of events – World Wetlands Day at Racecourse Lagoon, Seasons of New England and an EPA workshop in Sydney on ways of reducing the impact of wood smoke.
The goals of the project are to increase landholder understanding of the importance of deadwood for biodiversity, nutrient cycling and ground cover; to build a greater awareness in firewood collectors (we have partnered with BackTrack AgLads) of the best way to harvest wood to reduce impact on the ecosystem; and to empower firewood users to ask for sustainable firewood, and also reduce the need for heating by improving home thermal performance.
So far we have undertaken two biodiversity assessments at Bareena and Balala, Home Energy Reviews to help improve thermal performance, and training activities with BackTrack. As the weather warms up and hopefully there is some good rain we will resume biodiversity assessments – involving both landholders and school groups.
Z-NET Office Accommodation
Z-NET Uralla moved offices a couple of time since our incorporation. Over this time we were generously hosted by Uralla Shire Council at the Community Centre and the CWA in their Rooms in the Memorial Institute, until these facilities were required for other uses. With the commencement of the sustainable firewood project, Z-NET approached CSIRO to co-host the project and now we have an office and good facilities at Chiswick for our use. To maintain a direct connection to the local community, Uralla Shire Council have generously allowed us to have a pop-up desk at the Library each Thursday afternoon.
A significant development in the last few months has been the arrival of a number of solar farm developers planning large scale installations both east of Uralla and in the Arding area. Both developers are looking at sites close the 330 KV lines that run into Armidale, for exporting energy into the grid.
The New England Solar Farm (the one east of Uralla) is currently undertaking a community consultation on how a benefit sharing initiative could work if the commercial project is approved. Z-NET Uralla will have input into this consultation and we encourage all Z-NET Members to contribute ideas at the open Workshop on Sat 15 September, 1pm at the Community Centre or online at www.newenglandsolarfarm.com.au/community
Progress Towards the Z-NET Goal
Z-NET has been monitoring small scale installations of behind the meter solar PV on homes and businesses. To date based on registered installations the Shire is covering approximately 19% of our baseline power consumption in 2016 (reported in the Z-NET Blueprint). Encouragingly we are accelerating the number of installations with as many KW installed in the first half of 2018 as there was in all of 2017. The Farming the Sun Solar Panel Bulk Buy has contributed to the increased uptake as well as a number of businesses making the decision to switch to solar for the bulk of their daytime power. CSIRO has just turned on the switch to a 100 KW system at Chiswick and this will provide a further boost.
Many thanks to our fantastic Executive and Members who have contributed their time, innovation, support and skills to the Z-NET Uralla adventure. These contributions have made the role of President exciting, satisfying and fulfilling, and I look forward to everyone’s contributions in the future in whatever role works best for each of us.
Z-NET Uralla President