I got Chastised for Owning a V8 Last Week


I felt like I was being made out to be a bad person and it shocked me. I’ve always considered myself a green person. I have planted tens of thousands of trees, lobbied for feed-in tariffs to make it attractive and economical to get the masses to install solar power. I’ve encouraged ride-share systems and spend a lot of my working time encouraging people to use public transport and to reduce the impact of congestion. I point out to people when their car or truck is blowing soot from the exhaust pipe and if I pick up rubbish that others have thoughtlessly discarded.

Since I was little I always loved Corvettes. As a boy i would watch them on TV and see the odd one in real life. As an adult I had a business associate who owned one while I just had a replica model.

20160611_175607 (2).jpgThe colleague who castigated me used to work for a car manufacturer and has a passion for motor vehicles and motor sport and maybe he was just envious of me that I have a sports car, but it made me feel bad. It shook me, perhaps because the car is an indulgence.

I didn’t bother telling him that I have cancer and that it made me decide to do a few things for myself and my family that were on my bucket list, things that like most of the people I know, I never expected to achieve. Anyway, now when I drive my 350 Chevrolet, people give me the thumbs up, kids stop and look at it as  drive past as I did so many times when I was little and I see big grins light up on their faces, just like I did. People compliment it and I feel like they feel happy for me in gas stations. They don’t know my circumstances and might think I’m rich. I’m not. The only new vehicle I have owned in my entire life was a no gear pushbike.

I have my dream car and I spend as much time cleaning it as driving it, which I find therapeutic (it helps me take my mind off my next lot of tests), while listening to business coaching, self improvement and music podcasts. It’s in great condition, doesn’t blow smoke (and neither do I), I never deliberately speed (in fact I am helping to test a green driving app) and  so the engine is never working hard, it is in fine tune so there is very little pollution, in fact I think it drives much cleaner on high octane petrol than the average car let alone the diesel soot smeared black smoke spewing trucks I see delivering frozen food to retailers.

I have spent half of my life working in voluntary unpaid positions after work, from boards and committees including as a Civil Defence Rescue Team Leader, Chair and committee member of boards including a music centre that has taught thousands of children to play music on instruments they couldn’t afford to own, volunteered in a food centre providing vegetables at farm cost to people who couldn’t afford to pay retail, fund a guide dog, support charities and worked hard all my life.

I indulge myself a little when it comes to my guitars and continuing to lean music and have done some travel (most of it on business with very little time for myself) and I consider myself to be a good citizen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect and have room to be a better person, but I do care about my community and my environment.

But I do have cancer and I do have a bucket list. I thought I’d wait until I retired before I went and had a but more fun and I’ve recently been pointed out that I am no longer insurable for health and life. Obviously they consider I have a long life span ahead! I haven’t given up on that myself.

I do my best not to judge other people and I’d like to suggest that people who are quick to judge or try to make me feel bad for finally owning my (second hand) dream car should have a close look in the mirror. I hope they never find themselves in a similar situation to me.

 

 

 

Petrol Tax Increase and Solar Power Feed-in Tariffs


It’s election year next year and the National Government has announced petrol tax increases to start in July this year. Now I don’t have a problem in principle with user pays, although after the report by the Ministry of Transport earlier this year, it doesn’t look like things are going to improve, in fact we are likely to see mid day traffic congestion (don’t we already have that?) in Auckland, as well as the morning and evening commutes.

Long BayThere doesn’t seem to be a lot of encouragement for people to work from home although that would ease the pressure on congestion. Auckland Council seems dead set on high rise housing in the Auckland Unitary Plan, but at the same time they are building new homes in areas like Long Bay as quickly as they can, with no sign of increased road capacity for the 2500+ homes to be built. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against high rise as long as it is done smartly, without taking sun away from existing properties and it is part of an environment which includes amenities that encourage people to work, live and play in a safe healthy environment.

Wouldn’t it be great if those homes all had solar panels on their roofs and were able to sell excess power back to the power companies. Even better if they could get interest free loans to cover the cost. This last long hot summer would have been able to generate massive amounts of power for water heating etc. It’s funny that when I built a minor dwelling next to my last home, I had to install an ugly water tank to capture rainwater and allow it to trickle into the stormwater system from the roof, which I could of course also use for the garden, but there were no options with regard to using renewable energy.

I was listening to the Peggy Smedley Show podcasts as I do each week and she recently interviewed Nick Bitterswyk CEO of Urban Green Energy, who mentioned that great things were happening in areas like solar power in Australia and New Zealand. He was right about Australia, which is going gangbusters with finance and feed-in tariffs, but clean and green New Zealand is not. We do not walk the talk when it comes to renewable energy as you can see on the web site at EECA.

At a recent home show I visited every exhibit where they were selling domestic solar power solutions and asked about the ability to sell surplus power back to power companies. They said that it was not happening, that the utility companies were not supportive or interested. They said that they and the Government have their own agendas when it comes to power generation.

Now we have a large reliance on hydro and geothermal power. Much of our power in the North Island comes from geothermal power sources in the Taupo region, such as Wairakei. I wonder what would happen if we had a major eruption and this source of power dried up. What would our back up plan be? What if we had another drought similar to the one we had this summer and the lakes were too low to provide sufficient energy. You can’t suddenly roll out a solar energy plan at the last minute.

I urge Kiwis to consider solar power and feed-in tariffs when thinking of who to vote for next year in our national elections. This is not a new topic, I have blogged about it several times. If a disaster happens, will the Government say they could not have foreseen this situation? I don’t think so, it is a choice. I’m hoping that at least the Green Party will think about this as part of their election manifesto. Actually where are the Greens? They do appear to have a policy on feed-in tariffs, but its pretty hard to find.

So if you were able to get an interest free loan to put solar panels on your home and the ability to use that power when you needed to and were able to sell power back to the grid for a rebate at fair market pricing, would you take advantage of it? I welcome your comments.

Where Are The Greens


It seems somehow appropriate to parody Sondheim at this time. For a number of years now I have been waiting to see what the Green Party would do in New Zealand, especially with an election coming up. I’ve blogged extensively on the poor state of our lakes and waterways, the apparent lack of management of dam capacity and maintenance and the continued practice of feeding Aucklanders water from the Waikato River.

Brown Waikato Water

I’ve complained about our eagerness to send money based on the Kyoto Protocol offshore instead of spending it on restoring New Zealand to the clean green country we like to tell the world it is. Above all I get really frustrated that we still don’t have a policy of interest free loans for solar power with feed in tarrifs allowing us to sell excess power generated back into the grid. So with the latest election coming up I don’t mind telling you I gave the Greens my Party Vote.

I have to be astounded that they didn’t take this opportunity, the best in their history to become part of the Government in this MMP environment. No, they said they would not back John Key on Supply and Demand. Sure they are strongly against asset sales, but that is only one policy albeit a huge one. They could have found imho a middle ground which would have National supporting some real green policies and sustainability and made a serious difference with their 11% vote and 14 seats! I have to wonder if their ideology is more important than their policies. Are they now going to focus on being a jeering opposition in the house, or will they fight for my feed in tarrifs, making the rivers drinkable again, encouraging green and sustainable urban development, enforcing emission control etc? Are they going to show respect for the people who voted them in by concerted positive action or be the jeering laughing annoying opposition party there to undermine our Government and hold us back until the next election.

So back to Sondheim:

Isn’t it rich

Is this a fair

You here at last on the ground

NZ in mid air

Send in the Greens

Isn’t it bliss

Don’t you approve

One who keeps tearing around

One who won’t move

Where are the Greens

Send in the Greens?

Just when I’d stopped

Writing my blogs

Finally knowing

The one that we wanted was you

Making your entrance again

With your usual flair

Sure of your lines

No one is there.

Don’t you love farce

My bad I fear

I thought you’d want what I want

Sorry my dear

But where are the Greens

There ought to be Greens

Quick send in the Greens

Isn’t it rich

Isn’t it queer

Losing their timing this late

In their career

And where are the Greens

Quick send in the Greens

Don’t bother – they’re here

What FIT’s could do for NZ


Having teased the concept of Feed in Tariffs over the last few blogs  I’d like to get a bit more detailed. So in NZ the government has provided subsidies for roofing insulation, especially for older houses that were not built as efficiently from an energy perspective.

That is good in that it may reduce the need for heating, which is the biggest consumer of energy. A large percentage of energy sources pollute the atmosphere, damage the ozone layer and produce carbon waste. I’ve explored the fact that solar power is a renewable source that produces very little waste, mainly in manufacturing, packaging and installation, marginal issues.

The ideal scenario for me is interest free loans from the Government to cover the cost of purchase and installation of solar panel systems for both domestic and business. There are some lessons overseas where businesses have exploited the opportunities for subsidies and rebates and in some cases they have benefited from the interest free finance and feed in tariffs more than the public. This needs to be considered, but even where that happens, they are still producing energy in forms preferable to oil and coal and other non renewable or potentially dangerous sources.

So the basic idea is that consumers can get an interest free loan to have solar panels and related equipment installed in their homes. The systems include meters and technology that allows people to understand how electricity is being used in their homes, where is it being wasted. They can use the power they generate for free (keeping in mind they do have a long term loan to repay) and when they have excess power, they can sell it to the power companies for a tariff that is mutually agreeable.

A key point that I have raised through out this discussion is redundancy in the case of emergencies. Every time we have had a major emergency people have been without power. As recently as the aftershocks in Christchurch yesterday 17 April 2011, parts of Christchurch were without power for a couple of hours, but previously it has been days and weeks.

UK has had local FIT’s for a couple of years and other countries have had them for several years. There have been many benefits from this. One of the big ones that people don’t automatically think about is job creation. This happens at all levels. Industries to benefit include finance, manufacturing, installation, inspection, education and more. One of the great things about not being first in the industry, we can get our clever Kiwi inventors coming up with new technologies and inventions which will find a ready export market. Many new industries will spawn from this as new developments are made. Mobile technologies will allow control of what appliances are active from your smart phone. You’ll be able to turn off non essential appliances when you are at work, on holiday etc, whilst still monitoring what is going on and being able to turn the hot water back on while you are on your way home.

For business there is the rent a roof program where people can generate income from their roof, while someone else looks after generating the power and selling it into the grid and to the building occupier. This is extremely scalable. In fact in the UK, many roofs rented by power companies are domestic!

Rented roof

Preparation Lessons from Japan and Christchurch


It’ll never happen to me is probably the first thing. Even in Japan, which I have visited at least 20 times, I doubt many people expected anything like this latest earthquake. I experienced earthquakes on many of my trips to Japan. I have been in office buildings and hotel rooms and felt the vertigo as buildings sway. The thing is it happens so often that people take it in their stride and the evidence was seen with images of people standing on bridges watching rather than racing for cover.

A similar situation occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. We all expected that if a big one did come, it would be in Wellington, not Christchurch. I used to be a Civil Defence rescue team leader and our earthquake training was all based around Wellington because it has a compact CBD, lots of buildings clad in glass and sits right on the fault line. Like Japan, they experience lots of earthquakes there.

What I really wanted to mention in this blog though, is the survival kits, the essentials required besides shelter and ablutions. That is water and power. Water has proven to be probably the biggest issue in many fronts. Basically water is the most crucial element. We can live longer without food, but not without water. We need water for drinking, bathing, cooking etc and when the water supply either fails or becomes contaminated, this becomes a major problem.

I will certainly be taking this more seriously in future because it was obvious that if you didn’t have any, your chances of getting your hands on water were pretty slim. In Christchurch for example, only one supermarket remained open. Not a lot for New Zealand’s 2nd largest city.

If you don’t have electricity, you can’t boil contaminated water, can’t wash yourself, your clothes and risk hygiene problems. A generator isn’t much of an option but gas is. We saw lots of images of people filling up their gas cylinders and having communal BBq’s because their refrigerators couldn’t run and food would soon perish.

Getting gas after the quake

Of course gas also means you can boil water. We were very lucky in Christchurch to not have outbreaks of cholera or other diseases due to water contamination, not to mention the inability to flush the toilets etc.

In this situation I’m not sure how much it would help, but these are easy things that I will be doing to ensure even though I don’t think it will ever happen to me:

  • Stocking enough water and non perishable food to support my family for a number of days.
  • Ensuring that I have a couple of full gas cylinders (remember that without power, petrol stations close)

Longer term I will look at replacing my hot water cylinder with gas. Doesn’t help if there is no water, but does if there is no electricity.

Then I get back to my hobby horse of solar power. A hobby horse of mine is that the government should not only be encouraging us, but facilitating solar power for both business and consumers. I’ve blogged before about feed-in tariffs and interest free finance for people to install solar panels as happens in other parts of the world. If we all had solar power, we would be much more sustainable. Obviously New Zealand will not be running nuclear power, even more so given the latest catastrophe in Japan. As I write this a 3rd nuclear reactor has lost its emergency cooling system after the 8.9 quake!

For a country that asserts itself as clean and green, I think this is a big fail. Maybe this would be an opportunity for the Green Party to assert itself. With the election due in November this year, if I was them I would be pushing hard for interest free subsidies for solar energy, especially for water heating. I would also be pushing for the right to sell surplus energy back into the grid .

When I was in the Netherlands a couple of years ago I saw many warehouses and farm buildings covered in solar panels. I also of course saw many wind farms. I thought they looked really cool, although I probably wouldn’t want one in my backyard. Fortunately for the size of our country we have plenty of space.

So have we learned anything and will we act on it?

The following video illustrates how people are so used to earthquakes that they don’t do what they have been trained to do.

Low Carbon Future


I’ve just finished reading an excellent story by Chris Barton in the NZ Herald, which is a good primer for the Copenhagen conference that John Key is going to? The cricket on TV is on in the background and apparently Key is in Wellington watching New Zealand vs Pakistan, so he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the airport.

He quotes Phil Scadden, a geo-scientist from Dunedin, as saying that by 2025 we could cover all our energy needs using wind, hydro, geothermal and other relatively green sources if we were prepared to spend a great deal of money.

I find it hard to believe that NZ will spend the money, especially if we are insistent on Kyoto and other deals which would require us to pay other countries who have less carbon emissions than us. For my money I think that we should invest the same amount of money on cleaning up our own act.

I ask myself if we can afford to be prissy about seeing lots of wind turbines on hilltops. Personally I think they look really good. I was in the Netherlands earlier this year and the site of hundreds of wind turbines was quite inspiring. I don’t have a problem with having them far enough away so they don’t cause noise polution. We have plenty of great spots in the country that are almost always windy, such as Ohakea, which I believe from memory means place where four winds meet. It certainly never disappointed when I used to go down to the Ohakea Air Base to race land yachts, a very green speed sport:)

Something that annoys me when we talk about clean and green in this country is the lack of emission controls for diesel vehicles. If I was given a dollar for each diesel soot sprewing truck, with black soot backs delivering frozen meat, I would be able to retire today.

I’d also like to know why NZ is following other countries, with Feed-in Tarriffs, which I have previously blogged about. The concept was raised a long time ago by the Green Party, where there would be subsidies and incentives for people to put solar panels on their rooves and allowed them to sell surplus power into the grid.

Anyway, this whole situation disturbs me. Instead of fixing our problem at home, we want to pay other countries who are more fortunate than us, in having more trees etc. NZ has the ability to be self sustainable if we put our brilliant scientists and inventers on the job. We could be isolated from a lot of the problems of climate change in other parts of the world. Once we have it licked, then we can give them access to our know how. That might make a great new export for us.

For now, I’ve been for a 9 1/2 km bush walk/jog, finished my blog and am going to go and by an electric lawn mower. It is plastic, doesn’t need oil or petrol, won’t rust and will therefore last much longer.

Feed-in Tarriffs and The Greens Party


So election year is hear and in less than 2 months the political fate of New Zealand will be decided for the next 3 years. With Greenhouse / Global warming , Kyoto and the global call for positive action on sustainability, I would have thought that The Green Party would have had the perfect opportunity to become a dominant force.

In several parts of the USA there are government subsidies and interest free loans on the purchase and installations of solar panels for domestic use. New Zealand has major problems with power. This year the lakes which are used to generate hydro electricity in the South Island were close to empty and given that this has been a recurring situation, it is only a matter of time before we start having enforced power cuts.

The government has been quick to sign the Kyoto Protocol which apparently gives us a sustainability debt which we will have to pay to other countries. In my humble opinion this is stupid, not the least because countries including our Australian cobbers and the USA have not signed. But more so because we would be far better using those funds, taxpayers dollars, to do better things at home, such as interest free subsidies for urban water tanks for drinking water and solar panels on our homes to generate water to heat it. Surely that would make better sense?

When I started to research this, I found that South Australia is enforcing a concept that they got from the NZ Green Party which is a Feed-in-Tarriff. I’m amazed that I had never heard of it! I’m not sure if that reflects more poorly on me for not knowing or on the Greens for not being more vocal about it. Anyway, rather than providing subsidies and interest free finance, which I feel we should still enforce, this concept requires the power companies to purchase excess power from consumers who have solar power in their homes, at a price higher than they pay to the commercial grid.

If we are in for some serious problems as a consequence of global warming, rising sea lavels, increased pollution in lakes and rivers, exacerbated by increasing water temperature, how is it that the Greens do not feature high on the political radar. I suspect that a lot of it is driven by their perception as tree huggers, driving sooty diesel vans who used ot be extremely vocal, but just didn’t seem like us, the average Joe Public. They don’t fit the mould of the ordinary politician, perhaps because they represent only one (important) facet of life on planet Earth today. They haven’t convinced us that we need them, which is a shame, because they may have some great ideas that we dn’t know about. Maybe they need to make some changes to the way they present themselves.

So here’s the problem. I can’t afford to spend between $30,000 for water heating and $100,000 for generate power to my home equivalent to what I get off the grid today. But if I could borrow the money interest free and pay for it from savings as well as selling excess back into the grid I’d be keen.