Of Incentives and Long-Term Plans

I mentioned in a previous post (39 Hour Trip to Germany) about the roof tops of houses and publicly owned buildings in Germany being fully covered with solar panels. While  most houses in Germany don’t have photo voltaic panels installed I like to note that it isn’t rare either. When you’re driving on the Autobahn, you’ll notice in most parts of Germany that farm buildings have them installed and moreover you will see many gigantic windmill farms, too.

One of the local primary schools in Neuenkirchen, a town with a population of 13000.

The interesting thing here is to acknowledge that Germany is a wealthy and, in comparison, quite well organized country, where there surely isn’t any lack of electricity or energy for that matter. Moreover, in comparison to New Zealand or other remote (island) nations Germany has many close neighbours and can more easily trade with them. The question that arises is why such a large, visible number of private, commercial and publicly owned buildings in the small town I stayed, as an example, actually invest in alternative energy solutions?

The easiest way would be allowing gigantic corporations to generate electricity by various means, perhaps a mixture of old-fashioned and other environmentally less damaging (alternative) and sustainable methods, and to sell this ‘commodity’ to the citizens. As a matter of fact, this is what is done all over the place, isn’t it? And it isn’t just electricity, the same thing is done with food and water.

The government, states and councils can then sit back, facilitate this process for the citizens and ask them to pay i) for the commodities, ii) for the facilitation iii) and of course for their ever-increasing salaries. Just like here on the Great Barrier Island, where the Auckland Council asks for money for all the essential things for life. People generate rubbish, the companies bid for the contracts for the rubbish removal, the Council asks the people of the Barrier for rates and so the story goes. Be it roads, air-fields, wharves, conservation, in some cases education, food, water, petrol and so on.

My opinion is that governments, states, councils and the such must do more than simply facilitate and ask for additional taxes to cover the costs of ever-increasing government and bureaucracy. Great Barrier Island serves as a great example and as a great opportunity for Auckland Council, the government and its organisations such as for instance the Department of Conservation (because it is a remote and small island community) to showcase, and yes, experiment, with refined approaches to providing a common standard, to increasing it and to generating a part of the funds and revenue they require by other means than raising and introducing new taxes.

It is about incentives and long-term plans.

The long-term plans of any community or nation will be in the core aspects similar. Reduce emission, increase sustainable and green energy, reduce rubbish, increase recycle rates, reduce carbon foot print, which means reduce the transport of goods like food and water, increase the amount of locally or regionally produced foods. These are some core points, and I purposefully have omitted things like education, health care, defence…

The households in Germany that have installed these large-scale photo-voltaic systems are certainly not all wealthy, the public schools and kindergartens that have done so certainly don’t ask parents to pay a (higher) fee for their kids to be educated, the private companies have certainly not done so solely based on good public relations.

No, the answer is clear, they all have received (regulated) subsidies which in the long-haul will benefit not only the individuals financially but the community and as a whole, the picture the nation displays to others. A clean and green picture that is.

From my life and experience here, I have a lot of positive things to say about New Zealand, but I like to compare it also to a very pretty girl.

We are fortunate to be living in such a beautiful and remote, small country. But we should aim at being more than just a pretty face, lest we forget, we didn’t make New Zealand beautiful, if anything our presence only destroyed its beauty massively.

Getting back to the topic at hand. There is no reticulated power or water here on Great Barrier Island. I have not seen one house here, well the Mulberry Grove Store is getting there, that has such large-scale solar systems installed as the pictures in the following will show. Almost all households here rely on diesel generators that, let’s face it, are the opposite of a clean, green, paradise island. They are a noise and pollution nuisance! They are a fire hazard and cause neighbourly disputes.

Building is ridiculously expensive in New Zealand, so are the prices for property and rates aren’t cheap either. Setting up a sustainable system for power and water here on the island is essential, yet unaffordable for the most.

When it comes to electricity and water, the answer is very clear and simple. These shouldn’t be commodities, these are necessities for life (well the latter more than the former). Most importantly, every household can easily provide these bare essentials! We all have lots of space on our roof and a 20000 litre water tank hooked up to the gutters doesn’t require much space either.

Let me be concrete!

Auckland Council must find private investors to invest and subsidise a scheme where all people on Great Barrier Island can generate all their electricity needs via environmentally friendly and sustainable processes, such as photo-voltaic, wind, hydro-electricity and so on. This must be done in a way that taxes and rates will not increase.

How can Auckland Council do this? Well, I don’t work there and earn 100 grand a year, but I hope they have employees who think exactly about such things!

Well, here is a thought. Council could present a business plan to a private company that installs a big wind mill on top of a hill, like here on my property, high in the very windy area of Tryphena. This wind mill(s) can either provide the households and businesses with electricity and/or serve it into a power station, just like the idea of a gas station, which serves to charge electric cars, push-bikes and quads. These vehicles can then be leased out to locals or hired to tourists. In the long-term, the users of such vehicles will then provide all the funds necessary for the wind mills and the grid. Jobs will be created that are based on environmentally friendly means and just as importantly, Great Barrier Island will be more than just a pretty face.

Another thought. The Department of Conservation (DOC) administers (owns) the majority of this island. They employ many people, who create and maintain our walking tracks, oversee and act on conservation issues and count the flora and fauna (there seems to be a lot of the latter). Why can’t DOC build a large-scale hot house here on the island so that GBI is self-sustainable in terms of food? Wouldn’t it be great if this could go a step further and we’d be self-sustainable in terms of meat and fish? If done properly the community would not only be self-sustainable but also export these locally grown (and if so organic) top grade foods.

Actions like this don’t only make sense, they also create ‘good’ jobs, they are educative, they provide long-term financial investments in the community and beyond, and serve as great examples for other small communities. Instead of shipping all the foods over here, being handled at least 4-5 times before it is in our shops, is it really that difficult or such a bad (financial) investment to simply produce it here?

I read in all the brochures and other publications about GBI, that it is a paradise, a beautiful haven. Well, not to me. It’s just another pretty face and what lies behind it is certainly not what it is praised as.

The really sad thing is that the potential is here, the community is here, however, it often takes incentives and a plan to realise the full potential. By the way, what is the plan for GBI?

For Great Barrier Island to being a true paradise we must achieve self-sustainability – using environment-friendly processes – in terms of energy, water, food (including meat and fisheries)! In addition, we must invest in education, health-care and social well being. 

And here some more pictures. Just to clarify, batteries are not needed when you have a power grid. The electricity the individual households produce goes ‘back’ into the grid and the household either pays a bill for the additional energy it required or gets a credit for producing more than it used.

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6 thoughts on “Of Incentives and Long-Term Plans”

  1. Some really good thoughts mate but keep in mind that the Auckland council has a bigger focus. GBI is most likely a pure cost factor for them and their easist way to recover the costs is via additional taxes. Subsidies will only be provided if they are recovered somehow by additional tourist money.
    Self sustainability can only be achieved if the GBI community is pushing for it by itself. As long as you are willing to pay a premium for the food that is shipped to you someone will be offering it to make a profit. You need to start production on your own to get less dependant.
    Why don’t you talk to your neighbours about a small community garden? Or you ask for help to fix the windmill on your property and hook up the power line to your neigb bours house as well?

    1. You’re very right Lars, it is the people, community and of course myself and every individual that can bring or cause a change towards the better future. In an ideal case or in times of emergency and suffering people will actually come together and make things happen. But complacency is every person’s trait, everyone has also bigger things to focus on instead of working towards a better future for the collective of people.

      In addition, there is a vast range of Great Barrians (as small as the population is), from the wealthy, to those who have holiday homes here, to the working class and the elderly. Thus getting a common denominator is very unlikely.

      The question that I have is if this beautiful island can only be seen as a cost factor by the Council, where improvements in living conditions and maintaining the status quo can only be achieved by increasing taxes, or whether it can be seen as an asset, as a huge potential to invest in.

      Waiheke Island – as I’m told – used to be like Great Barrier 20 years ago. What happened there is that private people have invested in wine-making and property development. As a result and of course its closer proximity to Auckland, it is now a very ‘modernized’ and, yes, rich island. Property prices are through the roof, which results in greatly increased property rates which the Council takes. While this is good for the council, it certainly isn’t good for the island. Herein lies the danger of private investments, it can lead to an ‘elite’ community, where only wealthy people can buy property.

      That’s why I say that there must be an incentive for the people to transform this place into self-sustainability and there needs to be long-term plan towards it.

      My windmill (the turbine) is beyond repair, replacement will be around 1000+ bucks, which isn’t really much. So yeah, one day the windmill property will have a functioning windmill again.

  2. It should be noted that Germany has a lot less sunshine than NZ too….. I agree with Lars – whilst it is clearly to all of New Zealand’s benefit to be investing in this sort of infrastructure it is unlikely to interest the council (they’re too short term and self absorbed for that). But people can change things together, simply by taking the initiative and pushing on with sensible plans themselves – when other people have the choice and see it working they will join in and so away it goes. But that requires an investment on a scale outside the reach of those it is most likely to benefit and therein lies the problem. So yeah, talk to those most local and see if together you can make a start. It can only spread from there. Every local community should be doing their best to be growing enough food (and producing enough energy) to reduce reliance on outside markets and keep money in the local economy – and the quality of the food improves too! Good work mate, only back a few days and full of it already!

    1. Hi Michael, all the best for you guys too for the new year. Thanks for the informative link, let’s see what I can use from it. Hoping to achieve at least twice the traffic of 2012, things are looking good for it. Cheers, Ben

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