Notes of executive committee/solar project team conversation on 30th may

Notes of executive committee/solar project team conversation:

  • On behalf of the Project Team, Alex outlined the way we see things proceeding. This begins with our examination of the responses to our request for tender documents prepared by WattBlock. These responses were due on 30th May. We expect to meet with the consultants in the next week, possibly follow up with some of the tenderers, and eventually choose our preferred supplier(s), draft the implementation plan and any alternatives, and develop the cost plan.
  • We will then be able to prepare our application to the SCC for an Innovation Demonstration Grant with firm cost data. To support the application we will need to receive non-binding support from the Owners at the Strata AGM on 23rd July.
  • After the Council decision in November will we be in a position to put a final proposal before the owners collectively about how the technology, funding and billing arrangements would work. This would be the point at which we decide on go/no go.
  • It became clear at this point that this path relieved the members of the Exec as some had formed the impression that we were going to be seeking a final decision at the AGM. This relief meant that were then able to discuss more freely the detail of the questions that had been raised by the Exec before the meeting.
  • It was confirmed that our grant has provided adequate funds to cover the WattBlock fees covering all of this first phase – feasibility study, preparation of tender documents and approach to potential suppliers, and review of responses with advice as to the best suppliers. Peter made the useful observation that it would be sensible to further retain WattBlock to oversee the installation of the Network. The Team affirmed the excellent service we have received from WattBlock well over and above what their contract provided for. It has been clear that they see this project as a crucial example that could lead to many more Strata communities tackling the introduction of renewable electricity supply.
  • Following a query from Barry it became clear that no one was sure who had authorised the payment of the first stage drawn from the first $10K SCC Grant. It was presumed to be Brent Taylor at Alan Dale RE on advice, possibly from Paul, that the work had been completed. Barry undertook to follow up on this.
  • It was confirmed that there is a regulatory requirement for embedded networks to ensure consumers have the option to both opt out or opt back in. It was noted that without the vast majority opting in the network could be jeopardised.
  • This led to a discussion led by Luci about some of the options we have been considering with regard to billing and how we balance return to residents who are the electricity consumers and the owners. As we move toward the final network design we will have to firm up these options with a view to ensuring there is good value for each stakeholder.
  • Discussion then moved to the associated infrastructure issues such as our switchboard, metering and trenching that might be required. Peter indicated that the requirement for trenching associated with the imminent introduction of the NBN to the site could present an opportunity to incorporate the network cabling into the same trenches if we can negotiate successfully.
  • The Project Team have undertaken to get specific detail from WattBlock about their claim that the current switchboard is unsafe.
  • It was acknowledged that up-grading the switchboard and installing the necessary Smart meters to enable the network to function would represent a significant additional cost. However, this was seen as likely to be a capital requirement for the Strata anyway in the relatively near future, to take advantage of better electricity tariffs that are only available via smart meters and particularly when the first electric vehicles arrive on site.
  • These issues led to a discussion of the on-going capital requirements of the Strata and the tricky judgement to be struck between retaining a capital reserve in case of unexpected contingencies versus using at least some of the capital as an investment in the solar infrastructure that would increase the value of our properties over the next 25 years. Geoff was hopeful that our new Strata Manager would be able to offer helpful advice as to this balance.
  • Several capital funding possibilities were canvassed including levies, loans and use of existing capital in the sinking fund. Geoff cautioned that at least some of our owners might find the imposition of a levy a reason to vote against the embedded network. It appears as if at least one of the tenderers might offer a total package including financing in return for a long supply contract (often up to 10 years). Luci outlined why we are inclined against such a solution because it would prevent us from taking advantage of cost and pricing reductions as conditions evolve.
  • Finally, Geoff asked the Team to prepare before the AGM a draft motion seeking in principle but non-binding support for the installation of an embedded network. This concluded a very useful meeting.

Progress update 28th of May

Peter and Neil met on the 11th May and developed a consolidated list of concerns that had been expressed by members of the Strata Executive. This was distributed to both groups and, in addition, to Brent Clark at WattBlock. Geoff had asked us to prepare written answers before the joint meeting which was eventually settled for the evening of the 30th May. Within a week Brent and Alex (from overseas) had prepared responses to the set of twelve questions. Neil embedded these into the questions and distributed what had become an eight-page document, mainly due to the very full responses Brent had supplied. A couple of days before the meeting a further email came from Geoff and Peter with calculations and commentary questioning some of the conclusions in the WattBlock Feasibility Report. It promised to be a lively meeting. Unfortunately, we would miss the calming influence of Paul who had left to work in Somalia.

During this time we were waiting also on the submission of tenders for the network installation and management. Several contractors visited the site and one sought information on the financial statements of the Owners Corporation, presumably as part of a consideration of a whole system bid including the financing of the development. The Project Team met twice with our WattBlock consultants at their UNSW base to run through the issues raised by the Executive Committee. We came to appreciate their cooperation and commitment to our goal.

As well as the assistance with the specific issues these meetings helped us to retain a focus on the ‘bigger’ picture into which our project fits. That is, if we can be successful and see the network installed and managed so that our residents benefit we will not only contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions we will also demonstrate to other Strata communities that this is possible. We were firmly of the belief that this was an ambition that made our difficulties and frustrations worthwhile. Meeting with our enthusiastic and knowledgeable consultants was a big help. Ross demonstrated their enthusiasm by writing a case study about our approach and incorporating it in a guest lecture he gave to engineering students at UNSW.

Strata Committee Meeting, 7th May

When the SC met for its quarterly meeting on 7th May Peter and Geoff tabled a paper which raised a number of doubts about the Solar project. This was a surprise for the Project Team and a bit up-setting, not that we question the Committee’s right and responsibility to ensure that our approach is prudent and in the long-term best interests of the Strata Community. I guess our upset was the lack of warning.

It was, therefore, pleasing that the SC decided to start again with their concerns by asking Peter and Neil to work together to produce a new paper which would form the basis of discussion between the SC and the Project Team. It is worth noting that finding a time when all 8 of those involved are available proved impossible. In this case we had to find a time in the week between when Alex returned from a trip to Europe and before Geoff left for 3 three weeks overseas which still meant that Paul could not attend having left for an extended time overseas the week before.

As a team pursuing significant change we have been very conscious of the need to be sensitive to any concerns of our community and the Strata Committee is of course a key group from which to retain support. The projected meeting will, in fact, be the first time we will have sat down together so it will be a key step in the path toward BlackwattleSolar.