From July 1997 to March 1998 I lived at a …

Comment on $75m power station the wrong decision: WA experts by Alex Nelson.

From July 1997 to March 1998 I lived at a house that operated solely on solar energy stored in a battery system with no connection to the power grid or diesel generator backup.
The solar power system was part of an overall package of alternative technologies incorporated within the house design ostensibly intended to demonstrate options for housing on remote communities.
Located 30km west of Alice Springs on the Iwupataka Aboriginal Land Trust, the “Gloria Lee Environmental Learning Centre” received considerable local media publicity in 1997 as a prime example of showing the way ahead for potentially reducing the construction and operating costs of housing on Aboriginal communities.
The technical description of the entire project was detailed in a submission to the national Ecologically Sustainable Building and Architecture Awards of 1997 (which it won), and it’s from this document I quote the section describing the “Active Energy Systems”.
Under the heading “Solar Power System” the document outlines: “A minimal system that promotes responsible use of energy; made up of:
• 6 x 120 watt Neste monocrystalline modules [solar panels]
• Trace C40 pwm solar regulator
• 4 x 535/c Solar sun flooded cell batteries
• CSA 2.2kw sinewave inverter.
“The system provides reliable power for: 11 watt PLEC lighting, 4x ceiling fans on timers, iron, chest freezer, radio/tv/video, computer, washing machine, automatic water transfer pump”.
The performance of the system was described: “The array output is between 2.8 and 3.8 kwh per day. Battery storage is approximately 5 kwh of storage at 40% DOD C100.
“No generator back up is required but provision for emergency connection through a changeover outlet is provided.”
In addition there was a hot water system with a “wood-fired boost” described as follows: “The system comprises a Solahart 180J solar hot water system connected to the Nectre combustion stove in the eating area through a water jacket in the firebox.
“The solar panels operate on a closed circuit with heat transfer fluid. The over flow from temperature relief is directed through a shepherds crook back into the main header tank to eliminate waste. No electrical connection exists”.
From my eight months residency at this house I adjudged the solar power system as by far the most successful feature of the entire project, its only drawback being that it was too limited to provide adequate power for regular household use; however, it convincingly demonstrated the enormous potential such independent power systems have for future household use.
Unfortunately there was little else that was successful about this alternative technology demonstration centre.
The costs of the project were listed: “Basic building and systems cost = $120,000. This equates to approximately $475/m2 average under total roof canopy” divided into “enclosed spaces = $675/m2” and “covered spaces $250/m2”.
“This figure excludes the administration and architecture consultancy and the costs associated with the special training programs under which it was built. When considering the cost of the training programs the long term advantages of the social costs and the reduction of unemployment far outweigh the short term outlays.
“For this reason it would be a false assessment to input the overall training costs, much in the same way as training subsidies are generally not included in the real costs of most building project assessments elsewhere.”
This additional funding – never accounted for – was provided by the Federal Department of Employment, Education and Training and the NT Education and Training Authority, with trainees from the Arrernte and Tangentyere councils “funded through a mixture of programs which comprised TAP (Training Aboriginal People), ABSTUDY and CDEP”.
From my personal enquiries in 1998 I learned the overall cost to the taxpayer ranged from $250,000 to $400,000, depending on who was my informant.
This tax-payer funded house, a failure overall as an alternative technology demonstration centre, sits in the middle of a slab of 108 hectares from the Iwupataka Aboriginal Land Trust.
In October 2009 the Aboriginal corporation that owned and oversaw this project was deregistered by the Office of Registration of Indigenous Corporations, which answered the question “Does the corporation own land?” as “Unknown”.

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Alice to get first Aboriginal owned earth ground station
If I recall correctly, the Geoscience Australia Antenna commenced operation as a Landsat receiving station in 1979, so this year marks its 40th anniversary.
Our family was living at the CSIRO residence by Heath Road at the time, now the Centre for Appropriate Technology.
There was one funny occasion when my brother was wandering around in the paddock nearby the new facility, and wherever he went the antenna would swing around and point towards him.
I think he got a bit spooked by it but it was the technical officers in the adjoining demountable lab that were just having a bit of fun.


Architect of Katherine’s masterplan to be Alice council CEO
This is tremendous good news for Alice Springs. I shall put on hold my plans to move to Katherine 🙂


Car crashed into supermarket, alcohol stolen
Certainly not the first time that kind of offence has occurred at those premises!


Nationals in Canberra run Country Liberals media
Perhaps it’s splitting hairs but there were two previous Trades and Labour Councils established in Alice Springs before Warren Snowdon “founded” the Central Australian Regional TLC.
The first was in December 1976 when Miscellaneous Workers Union officials Bill Thomson, from Sydney, and Ray Rushbury (Melbourne) arrived here to establish the Alice Springs Trades and Labour Council, as an adjunct to the TLC in Darwin. This was achieved by the end of the year, and Rushbury was appointed the permanent organiser in late 1977.
In early 1977 the Alice Springs TLC shared office space with the NT ALP in Reg Harris Lane. The new NT Labor leader, Jon Isaacs, was the secretary of the MWU in Darwin – he rose to prominence during 1976 when the North Australian Railway was closed.
The first Alice Springs TLC appeared to have become defunct by the end of the decade. In January 1981 a new organiser, Ray Ciantar from Perth, was appointed to re-activate the Alice Springs TLC but with responsibility extending to Tennant Creek and other regional communities; however, this effort seems to have been even less successful than the first.
The third “founding” of the TLC in Alice Springs was by Warren Snowdon in 1985, this time called the Central Australian TLC.


Wards for Alice council, including one for town camps?
Wards for the Alice Springs Town Council are not a new idea but have never been supported by the NT Government.
There was discussion about wards in the mid-1990s, which was firmly rejected by the government.
It was also raised by candidate Steve Strike during the town council election campaign in May 1988. Like Eli Melky’s current proposal, Strike also suggested five wards, each with two aldermen; however, he didn’t overlook the rural area on that occasion over 30 years ago (the other wards suggested were for Eastside, Gillen, Braitling and the Gap Area).
The town’s municipal boundaries were expanded significantly in early 1988, incorporating the whole rural area for the first time despite widespread opposition from affected residents. The idea of a ward system was the final suggestion to differentiate the rural area from the town, after calls for a separate community government and a shire were rejected by the NT Government.
It’s interesting to note that during the operation of the original Alice Springs Progress Association from 1947 to 1960, the town was divided into wards a couple of times for choosing delegates onto the association. The wards were the (now old) Eastside, town centre (now the CBD), the south side of the town, and the Farm Area along what is now Ragonesi Road. The town’s population grew from about 2000 to over 3000 residents during this period, which was long before there was a town council.
One person who represented the south ward from 1958 onwards was Bernie Kilgariff, kickstarting what was to become an illustrious career in NT politics.
Personally I support the concept of wards; for one thing, it would substantially reduce the cost and inconvenience of town council by-elections.
With regard to increasing the number of councillors from eight to 10; well, it’s just over a decade ago the reverse occurred.
Moreover, the ASTC first started off with eight aldermen (plus the mayor) in 1971 until 1977, when the number was increased to 10.
Here we go again?


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