October 30th 2009
Solar Park meeting draws lively discussion
Last night a lively meeting was held to begin a community consultation over the establishment of a $1.4 million, 100 kilowatt, Solar Park on Magnetic Island.
The meeting was convened by Ergon Energy's Solar Cities team at the Smart Lifestyle Centre (formerly the MI Sports and Recreation Club building) in Horseshoe Bay.
Mr Dean Condon, a technical expert, gave the 30 plus attendees a backgrounding on the “concept only” stage of the project which is to add another 100kw of clean solar energy to the Island's grid and serve as a demonstration site for the public to see and learn about solar power.
Dean Condon explained the group's approach to site selection in which they looked at areas near the Horseshoe Bay Waste Treatment plant which was rejected due to a rising water table in the wet season. The Nelly Bay Harbour carpark was another possible site but rejected due to an expected loss of parking spaces, extra engineering costs and the need to remove trees already established there. The Nelly Bay Harbour “wasteland” or harbour breakwall area was considered too exposed to salty air, had difficult foundation material and was prone to overtopping in cyclones. The Smart Lifestyle Centre remained as the site where the team believed a number of benefits could result. These included room for the construction of shade structures for car parking and the site's location near the furthest end of the network which would bolster power losses due to distance of transmission.
A "concept only" preliminary design showing the preferred site
The possible site was indicated as bordering Horseshoe Bay Road and Gifford Street which was queried by some as being detrimental to real estate values with the view from houses over the road shifting from open park to banks of solar panels.
Nelly Bay resident, Mike Schmidt, was strongly opposed on the grounds that it was imposing onto the space which he claimed he'd been developing since 1974 to benefit the children of the Island with sporting opportunities. “This is 18 acres for the community not fixed plant,” he said.
Ergon's Solar Cities Townsville Project Manager, Ian Cruishank, responded, “This is just a concept. It's not fixed in any way. We'd like to find a way to put this in and not compromise the use of the area.”
Dani Ryan of Horseshoe Bay made a strong case for the use of the solar panels being built on a structure that would shade the extremely hot and much-used skate park on the other side of the Smart Lifestyle Centre. She spoke of the dangers to local teenagers from sun burn and eventual skin cancers there at present claiming, “It gets so hot you could fry an egg on it.”
Others were skeptical that “kids, stones and glass go together” but Solar Cities' Julie Heath commented that their had been very little vandalism around the centre.
Martin Gibson of Nelly Bay preferred the Nelly Bay Harbour terminal carpark as a site. “It's a tremendous place for it but not in its present configuration. We should pull up the carpark and make it more user friendly.”
John “Scotchie” O'Niel suggested that the bush block beside the Cockle Bay wastewater plant be utilised. Such a location would however require extensive clearing of land with high conservation values.
The roofs of the MI State School were also raised as a possible location but it appears that, after gaining support from the school, negotiations with the education department have been less successful but continue. Ian Cruishank claimed however that not all of the school buildings would be appropriate.
According to the Ergon representatives solar power could be grown from the presently generated 200kw on Magnetic Island to up to 800kw under the Solar Cities project. Magnetic Island's total electrical demand was (without seasonable viariables) about 3000kw. At about $20,000 per 1.5 kw panel the electricity is expensive, while the environmental costs of coal powered electricity are not yet factored in, but also seen as relatively small compared to the cost of replacing plant or needing to upgrade Ergon's submarine power cables to the Island
While it was explained that by installing the solar park Ergon could experiment with different shade structures and would be better able to understand the impact on its network of variables such as cloud cover, Arcadia resident, Dr Don Kinsey, commented, “We don't need to prove things already proven”.
While solar panel shade coverings for the skate park seemed, on the night, to provide the best benefit for the community, the costs of such a covering structure seemed to be the biggest obstacle. How this might compare cost-wise with shade for carparking is yet to be determined but given the preparedness of the Solar Cities consortium to invest large sums on expensive solar panels and as they look to present the most positive benefits for the community while, no doubt, looking to enhance their corporate profile, sun protection for Island kid's skin is surely a better option than protecting the duco of cars.
Ergon have yet to firmly convince locals of the benefits of this project at its preferred site and the organisers openly apologised for the short notice of last night's meeting. Subsequently another meeting which might better suit a wider cross section of the community will be held at the Smart Lifestyle Centre on Monday 9 November starting at 7.30pm.
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