Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

December 4th 2009
Letter: Solar park a "worthless white elephant"

With public interest in mind, Magnetic Times has decided to publish a copy of a letter sent recently to The Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines, Energy and Trade, Stephen Robertson, by Island resident Mr Michael Schmidt who has some strong criticisms to make about the proposed Solar Park at Horseshoe Bay. It is important to disclose that your editor is one of the three community members on the working group and an attendee to all of the meetings so far and that I see the project in a far more positive light. But, because this is an important matter we have, for the record, reproduced Mike Schmidt's letter in full in the public interest.

Good morning,

Sadly, the Solar program on the Sport Reserve has gone from the ground to the air with unsightly and monstrous constructions being planned.

I need to understand how the TCC & Ergon Solar team can push so hard to keep this location at the Magnetic Island Sports & Recreation Reserve when it was already told (100%) at the first meeting to find another site. It was mooted that they MIGHT be able to stay if they were to perhaps provide shade over activity areas . We have now seen what is envisaged in the provision of shade, where $150,000.00, 20 Tonne (Ergon described) jungle of steel to support 45kw of panels of the 100 kw Farm to shade the skate park and it is not conducive to the Magnetic Island or Sports Reserve aesthetic and surrounding natural environment, let alone the further 55 kw required, made up from a scattering of steel and glass structures about the near building property. Tourist nightmare!

To me, this whole process is nonsense.

There is no architecturally acceptable design for the elevated 20 Tonne of “Jungle Jim” steel for just 45kw that is economically viable and the visionary concept put forward last night gave only partial shade. ALSO, the morning and afternoon sun will shine directly under the shade over the park given the height of the shade. “Not far from Worthless”.

Where/how and to what value will the other partial shade from the further mooted 55kw farm be placed? An even larger “Jungle Jim” of steel?

This project is a highly valued & FULLY COMMERCIAL ENTITY or at the very least – will be.

This is a commercial entity planned on a Sporting Reserve.

This is a commercial entity planned on TCC reserved Green Space.

It now appears Solar City Program have full intent in keeping the Community building as an “Interpretive Centre” for the life of the Solar Farm, either by Ergon or TCC.(20years min)

These pieces of “Solar” property would have to be excised from the main Green Space and Sport reserve. There were at least 6 or 7 individual sites proposed which then brings in another legal Identity wrangle that power generated from one site cannot enter another or pass thru another without due considerations and Safety Standards of Aust & NZ (Electrical Standards of Aust.& NZ.).

There is no FULL panel shade planned. Construction is dictating that there be a couple of panels and then a space (panel size) for sunshine???? So what is the point of this for SHADE?

I wonder that the property that this project envelopes would then have to have it’s own Public Liability policy to protect against kids ( & others) banging into support poles and from things falling from height.

It is trying to be mooted as a Tourist Identity – it is not. When would anyone come to see panels in the air on a Jungle of steel poles?

It is mooted as “showpiece” – showpiece for what – Outdated technology – that’s reality out the window.

It was earlier mooted for shade for car parking – it was never – at least not the quantity the reader might be inspired to think.

Entry or access corridors to inside the property to maintain the Solar equipment in amongst the Sport Reserve will have to be controlled so as not to have commercial maintenance being done during events or community recreation. Ergon should not have open access to this “Farm” on the Sports Reserve.

The visual amenity of Magnetic Island, the Sports Reserve and their lush grounds will be destroyed by the placement of these mechanical structures supporting this outdated technology, resulting in a damper affect on the people to partake in the Parks & Health Programs. It also detracts from the age old reasoning for having parks in communities in the first place and here we have a full blown Commercial Solar Power Farm consuming a good portion of our very limited park resources on Magnetic Island.

It was revealed at last nights meeting that the power from shade construction solar panels out from the main building and on the grounds would be put through the building systems (separate from the 45kw plant) thereby linking the building to the Solar Farm forever and making a mockery of what has been stated in all meetings by the Solar Management as the project needing to have “100kw from one source” – “one hub” because of technical detail. Just how much are we being consistently being lied to or at the very least misguided?

Ergon are insisting all the way through that TCC are saying that the building would be vacated and returned to the community when Ergon’s Solar City project is completed – estimated to be a 2 year project.. When asked (again & again) would the building be stripped of Solar Cities offices etc, and then be made available back to the community, no answer was given, total avoidance, indicating TCC would keep it as an Interpretive Centre.

I am asking your office to stand up and say enough is enough and halt this community infraction before it is too late and issue a directive for the Solar City project to move to a “commercial” location of which there is an abundance of suitable sites already pointed out to the Solar Team, in particular, “Further down the transmission line” to the “Waste Water Facility” vacant land, as supposedly needed.

It is now abundantly clear that Solar Cities Program not only want to claim the property grounds in part but also the community building for at least twenty years. Their purpose, it would appear, is more ‘to justify the existence of the Solar City Project, and if that is the case, then it should be done on commercial or other TCC held land that is NOT Green Space and NOT designated Sports and Recreation Reserve which has been developed, including the building, by the local community members over many years.

If you confer with the Solar Team Management you will find that they have 3 community members to represent the interests of the Magnetic Island people to which I refute, because I don’t believe the full truth is being disclosed nor the full extent and or practicality of the infrastructure intending to be installed.

It was said at last nights meeting that even though the working committee (3 community representatives, 3 Reps from the Solar Team and one from the TCC) would decide on the best approach and plan for the Farm on the sports reserve; that these plans would still have to go the community for approval. If it is at all possible to have our community agree on the tangle of 20 Tonne of steel “Jungle Jim” designs supporting the solar panels for just 45kw, let alone the other infrastructures to another 55kw, then I will gladly stand aside.

Further I am told that all of this planning will have to go through TCC Planning Dept. Approvals etc., inclusive of “Material Change of use” on the property from Sports and Green Zone to Commercial use.

I haven’t talked about the heat and glare from all things metal and glass, the aesthetic and practical maintenance (rust & corrosion removal & painting of the steel infrastructure—note the rust on the roof of the building from the sea winds thru the Gap) or the risk of electric shock in a general purpose park area. Including the risk of a thief being electrocuted or severely burnt. These panels will be a most sought after item with the itinerant passing fleet stopping in the bay. Then there’ll be the vandals who will bring along the pool scoop handle and try and short out the panels and systems to the glee derived from the Direct Current (DC) sparks. The entire farm should be elsewhere and in a security enclosure.

The hype and scare tactics to “Global Warming” do not equate either, given that there is adequate commercial land elsewhere on the Island – and well able to be located by any Discerning Tourist who might wish to see such an outdated and unsightly project.. It might also be a good position to point out that this $75,000,000,00 project and it’s panels have a very poor Carbon Footprint.

I implore you to have this nonsense stopped before the community outrage comes because the community awareness of the tangle of steel construction planned on the Sports property. I really see this as becoming a major issue when certain things are revealed and I don’t know that Ergon + TCC enforcement on the community is the most conducive way to approach the community. Any news generated by a dissatisfied and or cheated community can’t do any good for the Australian Solar Program. I understand that the TCC want to retain the community clubhouse as an “Interpretive Centre” for visiting Koreans and such, to have a cup of tea while they admire the cloister of “End of World – Mad Max style constructions” of steel and glass in a lush green Sports & Green Reserve, watered by the Waste Water Treatment Plant.

You may well enquire and be told that everything is in order and that the community is engaged – it is not engaged to the monstrosity that is now planned. The whole issue of Solar City Program on the Sports Reserve is becoming tiresome and ugly. I may well invite Mal Gibson to direct the design of the set. MOST IMPORTANTLY – THIS IS A WORTHLESS WHITE ELEPHANT GIVEN ITS OUTPUT CAPABILITY.

What will the real gain be for approximately (as advised by Ergon) $500,000.00 and approximately 2,000sq M of steel and glass of Sports and Green Reserve.

I Humbly await your return to me on this important community matter.

Michael Schmidt.


To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

















Letter: Solar park a
 
8 comments
 
chasmac
December 3rd 2009
Because I have been unable to attend any of the public meetings and will also miss the next one I'm glad Mike Schmidt didn't abbreviate any of his thoughts about this matter. I've noticed though, that Mike has moved from a position of complete ("100%") antipathy to the use of this site for the project, through a number of conditional positions including a thorough analysis of several of the developing ideas for creating shaded areas in places where recreating humans are likely to be. He seems to have got the gist of the plan even before it's half germinated.
I think this is/was the original intention of the consultation process. And now, without (apparently) being a member of the inner circle, Mike has been able to air his thoughts (and those of many others) and mull them over in front of the entire 'audience' without interruption or editing. How good is that?
Anyway, I see about halfway through Mike's piece, after he's well and truly warmed to the task, he volunteered that:
"If it is at all possible to have our community agree...... then I will gladly stand aside". May I respectfully suggest that the selected reference group press on with the consultation and come back with the next installment - just like our politicians, dealing with that slightly bigger picture in the same story, are doing in Canberra and elsewhere. So far, so good.
 
Bruce Williams
December 4th 2009
My criticism that the Solar Car Park was an inappropriate encouragement of car-sized personalised transport has been satisfied. To cover (part-cover?) the kids' fun areas seems to be heading in the right direction. It's the kids' future. If they appreciate the symbolism and act on it, this project may be heading somewhere. However I wonder whether the change in direction was sparked about by Mike Schmidt's early solitary outcries. Have your say! It's for the best!
 
Barbara Gibbs
December 4th 2009
Sorry I missed the meetings...not good at remembering these things.
Anyway, the fact is, those of us who want to have Green Power to our homes have to b e guaranteed by the energy companies that this is in fact the case...that it is from a Green Source. In order for that to happen,
Ergon are obligated to provide these sources of energy. I disagree that the Climate Change is nonsense, and there is more than sufficient evidence available world wide, with very interesting facts arising this week about acidification of the oceans. Where this energy park is to be should not be of such a great deal, as we need this energy to be produced swiftly, without so many hold-ups. I just hope that a logical resolve is found soon, without wasting even more money. Places in China have very good examples of solar parks, which TCC have on film from Greg Bruce's visit last year. Aesthetics? Ha! We have a not very aesthetically pleasing entrance to the island...aesthetics in this day and age are less of a factor than the absolute need to increase Green Energy. Maybe more public will go to the next meeting and put their heads together now that the challenge has been thrown up by Mike.
 
George Hirst
December 4th 2009
Hi Mike,
First I want to thank you for sticking up for the history and ethos of what was once the Sport and Rec Club on the grounds of preserving the public's space. That is a valuable service in any community whether it be necessary or not.

You have also insisted on pursuing the seeming machinations of Ergon and the TCC over the future of the former club's space. But for me, and I think many Islanders who attended the meeting, what has been repeated on the public record: that Ergon will leave in 2013 and the space reverts to TCC for future community purposes, is adequate for the immediate future. What concerns me more on that front is not so much what a Council might do with the property but what readiness and capabilities do interested Islanders have to receive the club back in a fair and viable form. The final days of the old club hardly inspire confidence.

Because a number of bureaucrats who attended the recent meetings regarding a very significant here and now project and couldn't give you a straight answer about an office strip-out to take place in 2013, it is I think just silly to make assumptions like, “It is now abundantly clear that the Solar Cities people want to claim the property grounds in part but also the building for at least 20 years.”

Certainly Mike there is a challenge in tying to get a really useful shade structure for the skate park, oval spectators, markets and performing stage that deals with the sun's angles, and doesn't look like a steel “Jungle Jim” - whatever that might be. But it isn't every day a large consortium comes a community's way offering to make a trade that would see structures significantly protecting the Island's young people from skin cancer in a location where daytime UV ratings are usually well into the “extreme” range. I agreed with you in rejecting their idea of planting panels across the ground but, with Ergon's demonstrated preparedness to work with the community for mutual benefit, I'd sure as hell like to see if the raised shade solar panel option can be done and done well.

I could work point by point through your comments Mike but in a nutshell I would plead, on behalf of what I saw as a genuine community aspiration through the meetings, for you to lay off. This process is quite a delicate one where a serious benefit for young people (the youth you say you are so keen to support) in protecting them from extreme solar radiation at little cost to the community is there for us to take. Looking for conspiracies where there is little or no evidence that they exist, criticising Councillors and trying to scare the State Ministers away from supporting this unusual opportunity will sooner earn you a reputation as a wrecker and not a champion for youth and Island amenities.

What I think we now need is the clear support of the Island community. To succeed it is likely that Council will need to assist us with further grant applications so I am hoping that we can actually show a united front to encourage Council in this direction to make this great opportunity both effective and attractive.

George Hirst
 
Mike Schmidt
December 4th 2009
To Barbarra Gibbs,
Hello Barbarra, Please read the "Global Warming sentence again. I did not say that Global Warming was or wasn't. Mike Schmidt.
 
Mike Schmidt
December 4th 2009
To George Hirst.
Hello George,
I'll be entirely happy to go down in history as the "wrecker" if the Solar Program moves off the sports reseve entirely. Also, I'll glady pitch in where I can for the provision of cool shade sails to the skatepark.
Michael Schmidt.
 
Lorna Hempstead
December 5th 2009
Within just one letter there are several disparate issues raised.

Ergon’s “Solar Cities” project is not a commercial one- it was one of a very few schemes that were competitively bid for and funded by the Federal Government in order to explore and test the general community’s readiness for, and propensity to accept, alternative forms of power and new ways of delivery (such as “loaning” your roof to an electricity generator).
Those who studied “electricity” at high school (in my day it was part of physics), may remember that transmission causes voltage drops, therefore efficient generation is that which is placed close to the point of consumption – so panels on the house roof make a great deal of sense (as anyone living along the West Point Road will testify!).

Combine this with the ferocious tropical sun; think how many days in the year, (other than the few days it actually rains) does the weatherperson not put our UV readings in the very –high to extreme bracket; then shade that also provides power from that sun makes a great deal of sense. Neither shade sails nor rigid structures will shield the eyes from the glare of the low early morning or late afternoon sun, but that is when the UV is at its least intense. BOM for early December in Townsville gives the UV alert time as 7.50am to 4.20pm with 10am –2pm being in the “extreme” range. (www.bom.gov.au – UV forecast for Townsville)

Then for the skate park and/or for spectator shade around the sports playing areas comes the big issue of aesthetics of any shade structure. This is a difficult one as beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. I would trust a well briefed and experienced architect to come up with practical yet pleasing designs.

Many researchers beavering away at new ways of delivering solar energy believe that we are on the cusp of a new generation of panel technology. But it is not here yet – and when it does arrive it will have this whole stack of community-based “acceptance” research to use from the Solar Cities right across the country.

Finally to address Mike’s fears of the facility not returning to “the community” in some form or another. It is the Solar Cities (government) funding that is paying for our little Smart Lifestyle Centre. That funding is finite, and I am quite sure that Ergon has no intention of subsidising such a facility in a small community such as ours (however enthusiastic we are about supporting the experiments). If “we” want “our” facility back, then in 2012 we had better devise the long–term “hand-back” proposal to show to Council that this time it will not go belly up leaving debts and Council having to accept it back from the community.
 
Jill Edwards-Davis
April 12th 2010
I for one am in favour of anything which will enable my grandkids to get some healthy exercise without frying in the midday sun. And using the shade structure over the skate park for generating power is sound good sense. No, it won't pay for itself - but every little bundle of nice free watts helps!

And while we're on the subject of healthy exercise for our kids amd grandkids - why did the Rec Club die? Because we older people were not prepared to run the place. It was a great shame, and I have some qualms over Ergon's present use of the building - but surely it's better to have the place used and cared for rather than just become derelict?

And a little extra bonus for those of use who have been hosting Ergon's solar panels - the temperature in our house has been noticeably lower since the part of the roof that faces the summer sun has been covered with panels busily turning the sunlight into electricity rather than heat.


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