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6 Jul 2011

Hard work + Vision= Kilowatts: A story about the Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC)

Naresh Giangrande reports from the EGM of the Totnes Renewable Energy Society.

Nothing sets me off more than people who portray Transition town folk as a bunch of happy clappy, ‘we just vision it and it will happen’ eco activists. Last night’s EGM of TRESOC was a delightful, difficult, heart warming, and frustrating exploration of unknown territory; raw Transition in Action. It was a good example of what happens when a project moves from the great idea phase into real decision involving, in this case, significant sums of money, within a community. Suddenly emotions run high, and fragile relationships can become frayed. Although last night I think we emerged intact, more or less. It is what happens when a community expresses it’s will grounded in a positive vision- amazing things can happen.

The workload for the directors is going through the roof as four projects are taking shape;

The 4.5 MW wind farm development is moving forward, data collection is being done to enable an autumn 2011 planning application to be made.

  • An Anaerobic Digestion scheme now has a technology partner, Monsal Ltd who are taking an equity stake in the project, with South Hams District Council and the Dartington Trust also on board.
  • There is a request from TQ9 developments for TRESOC to supply a bio mass boiler for the new development at Baltic wharf.
  • Lastly and most immediately are solar farms. TRESOC have a technology partner for these developments too, www.sw-solar.co.uk/ who are backed by German businesses who have long term experience of working with communities to create renewable energy projects in Germany where this is the norm. There are four potential projects of between 50KW and 30KW, the first of which could be installed by early autumn 2011.

Those are the headlines, together with the requirement  (if all of those project are to be realised) of up to £10 million in finance.

Where it got really interesting was in how TRESOC are engaging with the anti wind folks, who have formed SHOCT – South Hams Opposing Comercial Wind Turbines. They are doing this is 2 ways. Firstly forming the positive alternative- SWISH Supporting Wind in the South Hams (see logo to the right, and you can find them on Facebook), and secondly by going along to SHOCT meetings and wishing to create an “open and civilised debate around the prospect of a wind farm”.

Ian Bright several times emphasised the fact that we are all in this as a community, and more was at stake than just getting some wind turbines built. At stake is the chance to bridge differences, and build community. But not in the vague hackneyed sort of way, but building community based on values of mutual respect, and creating bonds based on relying on each other; and not just the people we agree with but everyone. This is true community, and will create more than KWhrs of renewable energy. We will generate power beyond our imagination.

There is also a significant investment opportunity for those who have the cash to invest, and the vision to see the opportunity. We can get solar PV installed in a relatively short period of time. In some instances with very quick planning permission granted. This will mean TRESOC generating income, making good its promise of profitably developing, and delivering renewable energy in the South Hams. It will mean jobs, reduced carbon emissions, and the responsible development of our local low carbon, low impact renewable energy. It will also mean local investment in local businesses. And we are creating community.

I have nothing but admiration and gratitude to all those who have put their time (and often money) into making TRESOC – and all of Transition Town Totnes work. In doing so we are re-creating the commons, a vital piece of community nearly lost in the neoliberal madness of the last decades. And in doing so we are manifesting our true nature, creating some kind of synthesis of competition and cooperation, individuality and togetherness. Creating Transition initiatives creates the structures (such as TRESOC) that enable us to express some of our deepest longings; common cause and togetherness; and the simple truth that beyond the differences that we so readily see; we are all in essence the same. We give because we want to give. And in coming together with a vision of a peaceful, resilient Totnes more is created that we can have ever hoped or dreamed. It is a bit too early to be dancing on the grave of the fossil fuel industry, but our longing is carrying us and co-creating with us this world of which we dream. This is the true, often hidden power of Transition.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

6 Comments

marlene
6 Jul 3:43pm

I am looking for a good film on community design and sustainability.Suggestions are appreciated.

Marje Bryan
6 Jul 5:34pm

What a heart-warming report.
Congratulations on all your very hard work.
It’s not such a big world.
We have a group here who are working on similar initiatives – but just at the kindegarden stage.
From small seeds…
Wishing you on-going success in community building,
from South Pender Island, B.C. Canada

James
7 Jul 12:42am

Community Energy Warwickshire has sprung up from an energy open space run by Transition Stratford. We have formed a Co-op and are aiming to launch our share offer in Sept. We have a contract to put solar panels on the roofs of Warwick and Stratford Hospitals. We’ve had support from Carbon Leapfrog – in particular regarding the legal side of things (share offers and contracts with landlords/suppliers etc can be tricky things). We’ve a very basic website at the mo but it’ll soon be upgraded – http://www.cew.coop – watch this space!

Tim
7 Jul 8:17am

Many thanks for this Naresh – I was also at this meeting and came away with the same positive feelings – a real sense of ” can do” and urgency to get on quickly with all the opportunities in renewable energy. I for one intend moving savings from useless bank accounts into this!

Trugs
7 Jul 10:50am

Insightful, thoughtful and intelligent observations from you Naresh (as ever!). The great anthropologist Margaret Mead’s well-known words come to mind: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Here in Melbourne Area Transition, against many obstacles, we have achieved planning permission for a (tiny) 10 kW solar PV installation on the roof of our grade 1 listed parish church, but the further complexities to actually get it installed within the next few months are bureaucratically mind-numbing. The effort involved in turning an offer of 19 hectares of Forestry Commission land into a productive community woodland also seems to fall on a few key selfless individuals. It raises the general point as to whether a greater share of any rewards when projects do eventually happen should go to those who have actually made them happen. Can we reasonably expect “movers, shakers and doers” to deliver (especially the sheer hard work) pro-bono just because they believe in what they are doing ? Is it reasonable to expect them to receive only the same rewards as someone who just happens to live in the area that benefits and might even have opposed the project ? In some groups we’ve discussed “sweat equity” as well as “capital equity” put into projects. How do we tackle these sorts of questions as transitioners, as our projects become bigger, more ambitious, and demanding ?

Keith
13 Jul 1:36pm

Below is the video “The Combined Power Plant – 100% from renewable energy”. It describes how to get electricity from 100% renewables:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNZgjEDPe24

You’ll notice that there are two forms of renewable energy: intermittent and controllable.

Solar and wind provide energy to the grid depending on sunshine and wind speed. In order to synchronize the intermittency of wind and solar to the ups and downs of the grid, biogas and energy storage mediums (dams or pumped water) are paired with wind and solar.

However, if we focus on only one aspect of renewable energy (intermittent energy like wind and solar) and neglect the other half of the renewable energy equation (controllable energy required to sychronize intermittent energy), then by default the neglected half of the equation is picked up by fossil fuels and the net result is zero: no reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

For a truly renewable energy project, one which reduces carbon dioxide emissions, biogas and energy storage must match wind and solar. If your energy project relies heavily on intermittent energy, not only do you increase fossil fuel dependency, but you also reduce resilience. Once the fossil fuels are gone, the wind turbines and solar panels attached to the grid become useless.

As for the economics, our current economic system is growth dependent, yet we live on a finite planet. It can only last for so long. Profit is a result of (and encourages) growth.

Is TRESOC supported by Totnes Transitions?