Blueskin Energy Project members (from left) Scott Willis,
Chris Freear and Chris Le Breton hope this site atop
Porteous Hill overlooking Blueskin Bay will prove to be an
ideal site for a wind turbine cluster. Photo by Peter
New Zealand's first resident-initiated wind energy
project is at the heart of one Otago community's efforts to
fashion its own sustainable, low-carbon future. Bruce Munro
talks to people involved in the Blueskin Resilient Communities
Trust energy project.
The next few months are likely to see exciting developments
in a grand experiment which began with a flood six years ago,
Scott Willis says, to nods from Chris Le Breton and Chris
The three men, their desks and computers are crammed into the
former dental clinic at Waitati School, near Blueskin Bay,
20km north of Dunedin.
Once the site of sometimes-painful and much-needed dental
restorations, it is fitting this is now the headquarters of a
key element of a locally driven restoration of resilient and
sustainable community - a proactive response to the potential
painful effects of peak oil and climate change.
Although it has already given them a twinge.
"In a real way the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust began
with the big flood of 2006," Mr Willis said.
In April of that year the area was cut off by floodwaters.
Houses, infrastructure and crops were damaged, and residents
realised they could not rely on authorities for help.
"It was a concrete manifestation of ... the climate change
challenges we will be facing," he said.
Ensuing discussions about climate change, renewable energy
and the future of the Blueskin area resulted in the formation
of the trust in October, 2008.
The trust aims to build the energy, food, water and community
resilience of the estimated 2750 people living in the coastal
pockets - between Long Beach and Seacliff - centred on
To that end Mr Willis has been heading up the trust's
Blueskin Energy Project which is working to create the first
community-initiated and developed wind energy project in New
The next steps are further community consultations next month
and setting up a 30m testing tower before Christmas.
If it is successful, the multimillion-dollar, partially
community-funded cluster of about four medium-sized wind
turbines could be generating electricity equivalent to the
total energy demand of the Blueskin community.
That electricity would be sold, providing funding for other
elements of the community's transition to a sustainable,
"The aim is to have a thriving community with energy security
based around several social enterprises which are valued by
the community and contribute to it," Mr Willis said.
Working alongside him is fellow Waitati resident and
University of Otago researcher Chris Freear.
"If we get this right, it could be just one of a number of
community wind turbine clusters that appear throughout the
region and the country," Mr Freear said.
His focus though is on energy efficiency. Specifically, how
social networks can be used to help people not just know
about, but implement, changes that will make their homes
warmer and healthier.
Tapping into existing social networks is proving effective.
He hopes the research, which is being trialled until the end
of this month, will continue.
The other Chris, Chris Le Breton, also of Waitati, has been
volunteering his time to foment discussion on the potential
for solar hot water and electricity generation.
"We have fantastic solar potential in the southern
hemisphere," he said.
Mr Le Breton sees potential for a buyers' syndicate to be
formed to get solar panels at cheaper prices or for a social
enterprise to be established which would rent people's roof
space to generate electricity.
Decisions on which way to proceed should be made this summer,
"It's about using human creativities to build not plasma TVs,
but thriving human communities."
What the trust was doing with energy was not exceptional by
global standards, Mr Willis said.
"Elsewhere in the world they are doing things with natural
resources that don't have an environmental impact. But New
Zealand hasn't really clicked on to that yet."