Coastal communities are embracing green change, writes Carolyn Boyd (Sun Herald)
LIVING in a coastal community and having young children has spurred Matthew Nott into action on climate change. The orthopedic surgeon from the tiny community of Tathra on the NSW Far South Coast is the driving force behind a move to introduce clean energy to the Bega Valley.
The movement started out relatively small – raising $20,000 to install a wind turbine and solar panel on the roof of a surf club. But now, under the banner of Clean Energy for Eternity, the group’s aims have grown and Nott says the next step is raising about $8 million to build a community-owned solar energy farm.
The Federal Government has committed $100,000 for a feasibility study into the project and has promised another $1 million.
Nott wants to establish a model other communities can follow. “We want to set ourselves up as a centre of excellence for renewable energy,” he says.
The Tathra community has already won plaudits for caring for the environment. Last year, it beat more than 100 other entrants to win Keep Australia Beautiful’s NSW Clean Beach Challenge.
When the award was announced, judges called Tathra Beach “the pearl of the South Coast”, adding “Tathra has some fantastic community involvement in some great environmental outcomes, including the dune restoration and bush regeneration, which has taken place right along Tathra Beach”.
The median house price in Tathra is $375,000. Property available ranges from a basic three-bedroom house for $265,000 to a 19-hectare eco-getaway with an innovative, two-bedroom, corrugated iron home that runs on solar power and has a separate studio with bathroom. The asking price is $1.38 million.
Real estate agent at Marshall and Tacheci, Robert Tacheci, says the stretch of coast between Bermagui and Tathra is attractive because it has a raw beauty and is home to a community that is environmentally conscious and has diverse cultural interests, including art and music.
“I think the community goes with the area,” he says. “That you’ll find the people who’ll go for the area tend to have that taste because it’s one of the last little unspoilt bits [along the coast].
“If you were to follow the Princes Highway up and down the coast from Sydney to Melbourne, you’ve actually got this little bit that was somehow bypassed. That seems to have left an area that people are really drawn to for that reason.”
Further north, at Batemans Bay, the local Coastwatchers Association successfully pushed for the 85,000-hectare Batemans Marine Park, where the commercial fishing practices of trawling, long-lining and dredging are banned.
The group’s next campaign is convincing government and landholders that the region’s forests should not be woodchipped.
In Batemans Bay, the median price of houses is $312,500 and as the economic downturn bites, many properties on the market are subject to substantial discounting.
Coastwatchers president Mark Flemming says he is not opposed to development but would rather housing was built on already degraded farming land set hundreds of metres back from the water and off coastal dunes.
Flemming welcomes moves by developers to recognise better environmental principles in housing design.
“There’s no doubt that using intelligent design at subdivision stage is a really good idea,” he says.
“We think a subdivision should be designed so that those sort of issues can be taken into account, [including] north-facing blocks.”
The Tathra Surf Club’s switch to renewable energy in 2006 received great support from the community of this town on the NSW south coast. The wind turbine and solar panels installed on the roof save the surf club nearly $1000 per year in energy costs, are a highly visible demonstration of how renewable energy works and save our atmosphere about three tonnes of CO2 each year.
The installation was part of the LifeSaving Energy campaign by Clean Energy for Eternity, a community group on the NSW south coast.
According to Matthew Nott, spokesperson for Clean Energy for Eternity, the project received a lot of positive feedback. “What this project has done is show people how easy it is to install renewable energy onto a rooftop. The technology is ready to go and the equipment was installed quickly and easily.”
In fact, the project went so well that Matthew started thinking of an ambitious campaign – to switch every surf club in Australia to renewable energy.
“It makes for a strong statement – 305 surf clubs in Australia set up with renewable energy,” says Matthew, “And I wonder how many surf clubs there are on the planet?”
Clean Energy For Eternity first plans to switch all seven surf clubs in south east NSW to renewables by the end of 2008, before going national with the LifeSaving Energy campaign.
To raise money for the project, Matthew’s team started the LifeSaving Energy Big Swim, a series of 7-kilometre swims around south east NSW. The first Big Swim across Lake Jindabyne raised $20,000, just enough to install 2kw solar panels and a 400w wind turbine on Jindabyne surf club.
More Big Swim fundraisers will be held throughout 2008 in NSW, each linked to one lucky surf club. A Big Swim in the Bega River is even raising money for a wind turbine for Tathra Primary School (“This 7-kilometre swim is on the June long weekend in water that may be as cold as 10 degrees!”)
And Matthew has much bigger ideas in the pipeline.
“I am looking forward to working with Surf Life Saving Australia to set up a national LifeSaving Energy Big Swim, with surf clubs in each state holding a Big Swim on the same day to raise money for surf clubs. That will have some impact.