Meeting with Council officers, 24th April

We sought this meeting for a couple of reasons: we wanted to check on how the Town Hall resource people were perceiving our progress and we wanted to get some idea of the best way to shape our planned bid for a Demonstration Grant.

We met with Nik Midlam who has been our primary contact person and Chris Barrett who was the guy who gave us a hard time during the first meeting. By hard time I mean that he wanted to really test how serious we were by pointing out the many difficulties that would be involved. We saw this ‘warning’ as very helpful as we started on our way.

To begin we outlined the steps we had taken and answered their questions, in particular, how we perceived our reception so far from the owners. Whilst acknowledging there are many questions to which we still must find answers, we indicated that we thought that we had made a good start on this communication process via emails, the website and especially the Breakfast Meeting.

As he had on the first occasion, Chris carefully probed our thinking. This time on the details of our technical assumptions, plans, and costs and on how we envisaged setting attractive and equitable pricing. He saw a significant challenge in bringing owner/investors on board. He also noted the likely challenge we will face as the big grid suppliers offer bundled electricity/gas discounts. As he had not had the opportunity to examine the full Wattblock Feasibility Report before this meeting, he undertook to do that in the next few days and give us any feedback he thought we would need to deal with.

Notwithstanding their questions and challenges, we came away with the impression that they were both quite impressed with our progress and chances in seeking the Demonstration Grant. However, in this regard, they stressed that, while they appreciated how important a part of our package the economic benefits would be, the primary interest of the Council was in the contribution we would make to their emissions reduction target. Similarly, they indicated that the Council was less concerned than we have been anticipating with the impact of the extra demand on the grid that would be posed by electric vehicles.

These revelations warn us that it will be much more difficult than we had thought to build a strong case for the full Demonstration Grant of $80K.

The Breakfast Barbecue on Sunday 8th April

The Breakfast Barbecue on Sunday 8th April

It was a beautiful Sydney morning, sunny and windless.  Luci had strung our banner between the trees over the central area where we were to barbecue.  It looked splendid. With barbecue heating and rolls readied people began to emerge from their townhouses, a few interested friends and the WattBlaock team of consultants also arrived.  We had set out the main WattBlock Reports, the Flyers and the FAQ’s on a table for perusal but for the most part people just chatted for the best part of an hour before we convened a discussion.

Brent Clark from WattBlock kicked off with his remarks placing our project in the context of energy policy, Sydney Council goals, and strata possibilities.  His colleague Ross McIntyre, then summarised their conclusions in their reports covering our gradual shift from the initial optimal possibility of Model 4 to our developed thinking with regard to future-proofing.  Those present had plenty of questions many of which Luci and Alex were able to address lucidly.  By the time we wound up nearly two hours had passed and most present, if not all, seemed to be supportive.  Next day Alex wrote:

“My thanks too for a very successful consultation. It went very well and was very positive.  The summary of the feedback I compiled is attached – see Appendix 5).

 In brief, we had 22 attendees: 16 residents representing 11 townhouses plus 6 guests. All present (plus Paul) are in favour of the project: 10 strongly support, 2 support, none unsure or against. So we have two-thirds (12 of 18) in support with the remainder unclear.  We now need to individually contact those not present face to face or by email to offer a briefing and ask whether they support the initiative.”

BlackwattleSolar BBQ breakfast – a strata community engagement success!

We can report a successful community engagement event with not only a majority turnout but also participation from the wider community members (visitors and MPs).

We all gathered around a fantastic bacon & egg roll feast to discuss our work so far on the embedded solar power microgrid project and answer any questions and concerns from the participants as well as incorporating valuable feedback into our process. Our consultants were also kind enough to be available and joined us this morning to help explain some of the finer points of the project, for which we are grateful.

A welcome drop-in visit was made by Jamie Parker MP (one of the several media and political figures invited to the BBQ) who was delighted to see the developments of our project and offered future assistance and support to help us see through not only our own implementation phase but also spread the word and gain wider community adoption for similar projects.

The BBQ event concluded with an individual survey of all attendees to capture in a structured way specific feedback as well as an indication of the future inclination of the vote towards the implementation of the project.

We can say that all (ie. 100%) of the surveyed participants were in favour of the project going ahead, with most reporting “strong support” for moving forward to the next stage.

All-in-all a fantastic result!

Below are some of the pictures taken during the event:

Meetings on 4th of April

Preparing for the Breakfast Briefing of the Blackwattle residents.

The team met again on the 4th April to plan the breakfast briefing and to consider what we needed to follow up with the Consultants.  At this meeting Luci voiced his shift to a much more ambitious approach as he thought we should install solar panels to fill the unshaded roof of Blocks A and C.  The rest of us very quickly agreed that, notwithstanding the Consultants’ recommendation to stick with Model 4 (solar panels and embedded network only), we wanted to get the Strata set up with battery storage and sufficient solar collection to be future-proofed for electric vehicles and against increasing power costs.  We decided to ask the Consultants to prepare a further analysis of what became a Model 6 – panels + battery(ies) + EV ready + public EV charger.

We decided to invite the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore (see Appendix 3), the Federal Member, Tanya Plibersek and the State member, Jamie Parker to the breakfast.  Neil was also to contact the local newspaper, the Inner West Courier.  Luci undertook to investigate having a BlackwattleSolar banner, tee shirts and caps made up.  This was done and they were enthusiastically received on the breakfast morning. The Mayor and the Federal member apologised due to prior commitments but the State member accepted and joined us briefly.

We had emailed owners twice and asked for RSVP’s.  Slowly they came in so that we had had replies from everyone by the time the big morning arrived.

Meeting to brief Strata Executive Committee on 4th April

All five of the Executive Committee were present (me, Peter, Barry, and Victoria with Geoff on Conference phone). The meeting was difficult but useful as they raised a number of tricky questions and I wished I had our collective wits to handle them.  Their questions started with Geoff’s which was will he be able to do better with BlackwattleSolar than the 32% discount that AGL has just offered him on a 12 month contract to stop him from changing providers.  In discussing this point that Luci has already raised we concluded that the discount figure probably only covered Geoff’s usage whereas our negotiated discount would also cover grid connection fees, etc.  All of this made me realise that I need to be much clearer about the precise benefits for individual consumers (particularly including tenants), the owners (including improved capital value of their property), the Strata as a body, and the planet through reduced emissions.

Geoff went on to observe that, if we pursue the new ‘Proposed’ model there would be a $90K shortfall even with the best case grant of $80K from SCC meaning each owner would be looking at a levy of $5K to cover the cost.  This led us to discover the difference between the figures that we have in the FAQ sheet and those in the new supplementary report from WattBlock.  In fact, all three of our costings are way over those in the report, e.g., $74K c.f. 47, $160K c.f. 95, and $187K c.f. 150.  This renders our 50 copies of the FAQ in need of amendment unless the higher figures include something I couldn’t recall.  I didn’t attempt to argue for a substantial dip into our current Sinking Fund but I have checked and it stands at about $95K. Wrt our intended bid for a Demonstration Grant, Geoff wanted us to check with our Consultants as to the likely strength of our bid.  I suggested that our understanding was that the Council are very keen to see much more action toward renewables from Strata bodies and, since we appear to be the first cab off the rank in this regard we have a pretty strong case.  I read the Innovations section of Alex’s draft of our submission and they were suitably impressed.

They were questioning of the role and/or need for an Embedded Network Manager and wanted to know how much it would cost and why we or our Strata manager couldn’t carry out this role. I wasn’t sure whether part of the justification was due to a regulatory requirement; they couldn’t see why handling billing and customer management could be worthy of a separate role and associated cost.  Peter even went so far as to suggest that there could be sufficient gain simply from an embedded network so that the solar component wouldn’t add enough gain to justify the cost.  This of course ignores the value created by emissions reduction.

Victoria, who works during daylight hours wanted to know how we could ensure that she received some of the benefit from solar when she uses electricity in the evening.  This raised the question of what process we would use to fairly distribute the savings generated by our network.

I concluded that the meeting was valuable for them as they were much more aware of the aspects to which they need to pay attention and for us as it exposed my own limitations in answering likely questions.