GCCN meeting and Community Energy


Frank McShane of EGW (Photo Tom Crook)

Along with more than 20 others I attended the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) meeting held recently at East Gippsland Water’s (EGW) office in Bairnsdale where the theme was Community Energy. Ian Southall, the secretary of GCCN, spoke on the work of the Mirboo North Community Energy Hub, especially in getting the community onside and the current feasibility study where they hope to create a floating solar farm of 1.4Mw in conjunction with Gippsland Water. GCCN member Chris Barfoot explained the difficulty of having power lines capable of handling the extra current from large projects and suggested those near currently operating hydro schemes to be favourable and not requiring substantial infrastructure upgrades.

Rebecca Lamble, shire Environment Officer, spoke on the recent grants the shire has received of $180,000 to explore all the avenues for community energy projects. I am a strong supporter of the work Rebecca does, but feel she is often restrained by a conservative political organisation or in this case possibly restrictive funding requirements of the grants. But another feasibility study is surely not necessary with some of the sites obvious. A solar array on the Bairnsdale library covering their peak daytime energy consumption is one. My preference is for small solar projects behind the meter that can be done now on sensible locations – the grant money could probably have purchased more than 100kw of solar panels erected on all East Gippsland libraries.

Tony Smith spoke on EGW plans and what they are doing with mandatory targets for greenhouse gas reductions. John Hermans of Gippsland Environment Group offered thanks  for the work done so far by EGW as a leader in the community. Pride of place in EGW’s projects is the methane digester at their sewage facility on Macleods Morass which I have visited and written about before.

Since my visit nearly 2 years ago the digester has been completely insulated and is functioning with thanks to the imaginative work of engineer, Executive Manager of Operations, Frank McShane. With the solar panels on the office/workshop the digester covers all the energy use on the site and excess gas is flared to the atmosphere as CO2 rather than methane. I hope to do some more on Frank’s project in the near future.

On the downside it appears for the GCCN and the local shire are considering a bioenergy project in Orbost. This can only be supported if it genuinely uses agricultural and residential waste product. If on the other hand it is designed to use waste from the timber industry then it should in no way be considered. A rapid phase out of the logging of native forest, due to its huge impact on greenhouse gases is urgently needed.