Last week’s flooding emergency in the McKinlay shire has given property owners an extended chance to be in the running for two years of free power, in exchange for testing an alternative energy project being promoted by the council.
Aimed at helping electricity users in the shire to identify the most reliable and cost effective renewable power source from the myriad being promoted, the McKinlay Shire Council has sourced a hybrid pod containing solar panels, a battery, a generator, and possibly a wind turbine, which it wants to trial for two years on one rural property in the shire.
According to shire CEO, Peter Fitchat, the initiative was born out of landholder confusion and a variety of experiences with renewable energy to date.
“People were wanting to sell them all sorts of things, and others were saying what they had didn’t work for them,” he said. “I’ve got an interest in these things so I investigated options.”
While 9 per cent of all Ergon Energy customers in the McKinlay shire have rooftop solar installed, this decreases to as little as 3 per cent on some of the rural feeder lines.
Coupled with this was an aspiration to calculate current and future power needs, a desire for reliable power, and finding ways to address escalating electricity prices.
In the past five years, sustained interruption times in the shire varied between six minutes and 69 hours, or an average of 2.45 hours.
Ergon Energy is investing $1.46 million on the Julia Creek network over the next three years, but Mr Fitchat said it was still important to test alternatives, especially with 698km of Single Wire Earth Return lines in the shire and 154 customers linked to those.
“Council isn’t saying these pods are the be-all to end-all of power solutions.
“They are made by a German company and have been tested in extreme cold in Canada but we want to test them in all our environments – extreme heat and the wet season – and make an assessment to see whether there are cost savings.
“If there are, hopefully Ergon Energy will get involved in supply.”
Equipping bores in locations where it would be too expensive to run out power poles was another use Mr Fitchat could see for the units.
The energy container will have a satellite data logger and app, which will display what power source is being used and on what appliances, and will enable the user to switch between power sources
Worth $88,000 each, the SWER line project partners include MITEZ with $50,000, DENA (German Energy Agency) with $50,000, and $25,000 from council revenue.
Bleak future for electricity pricing
Mr Fitchat said the latest Queensland Productivity Commission report painted a bleak picture for the future of electricity prices in regional parts, where around 35,000 customers were on tariffs classified as transitional or obsolete.
“More than 35 per cent of them face bill increases in excess of 50 per cent when they are forced on to standard tariffs mid-2020,” he said. “This is a scary prospect and all the more reason to participate in council’s project.”
In order to be in the running to trial the power pod, interested people needed to complete a Rural Ergon Assessment survey online, giving them the opportunity to relay current issues and future power requirements directly to Ergon Energy, from which a report will be provided to themselves and the council.
The closing date was to be last Friday but shire CEO, Peter Fitchat, said this had been extended to this Friday.
“We are not slowing down on this – we just had to concentrate on other things going on,” he said.
The aim is to announce the winner of the ballot to trial the pod at the April 17 council meeting.
The power pod will be serviced by the supplier for the duration of the experiment, and the property owner will be responsible for supplying diesel.