Whāingaroa Community Powers Up to Tackle Energy Hardship with Local Initiative


In the studio, Rick Thorpe and Jodi Pinfold of Community Energy Whāingaroa (CEW) discuss New Zealand's energy complexities and how Whāingaroa can adopt a community-driven approach to power. Amid recent scrutiny of power companies, Consumer NZ reveals that the "big four" earn over $7 million daily, as some households face heating challenges.


(listen to the full interview below:)



Having established CEW a while back, Rick says it has taken time to wrangle together all the pieces of the energy puzzle to launch a community-based power initiative, but with new project manager Jodi Pinfold on board, they’re keen to spread the word.

“It's quite a complex industry, with the lines companies and the retailers - and the changes in legislation. These changes are great - there's more options for the community to be involved in an area which used to be tightly managed by commercial companies.”

One of the primary catalysts behind launching this community energy initiative was witnessing community members enduring energy hardships.

“We've got so many people who are suffering in this town, where we're living in baches and converted garages with poor insulation. We've got so many old folk who are so tight for money, they prefer to put on an extra layer rather than flicking the switch on the heater,”  says Rick.

He further pointed out that in dire financial situations, people often resort to reducing their electricity consumption to save money. Paradoxically, the pricing structure for electricity means that heavy users receive discounts while those using minimal electricity pay the highest rates. Consequently, those who use less end up paying more.

CEW envisions an opportunity for the community to come together to combat energy hardship. Their plan involves collectively generating, storing, and distributing power to those in need.

Project Manager, Jodi, is hitting the ground running with a mission to put together a plan for renewable power regeneration in Whāingaroa for the next year. She expects this to involve looking at locations where renewable energy can be generated - such as finding local organisations with roof space for solar panels.

She cites the example of organisations like XZW that are already on this path. XZW uses renewable energy generation (in the form of solar panels) to power their office and yard and any excess electricity can get sent back to the grid. Jodi says that the extra funds generated from this surplus energy can then be pooled together to be used to create workshops focusing on energy literacy, improving home health in Raglan, and assisting those facing energy hardships.

“The main parts of my role will be energy generation, education and running workshops in the community around healthy homes - understanding power bills, reducing energy costs in the home with energy efficiency, tips and tools,” says Jodi.

Rick mentions that Jodi has joined the team at an ideal moment, coinciding with Xtreme Zero Waste's installation of solar panels on the roof of their recycling building, which was funded by the Waste Minimisation Levy. They are about to install a big battery bank to store energy, along with the panels - a unique project that reuses Nissan LEAF batteries (masterminded by local technician Niall Darwin).

Typically, when EV batteries reach around 70-80% capacity in a car, people consider them inadequate to use in EV’s because they can only cover shorter distances and carry less weight. However, at this capacity level, they work perfectly fine for collecting and storing domestic energy.

“You can align the batteries in such a way that you can collect a large volume of electricity and then hold it for things like emergencies - and another part of this project is about community resilience,” says Rick.

Having seen a number of extreme weather events knock out power to communities over the past months, CEW say that they could potentially have key energy storage points at places like the Community House and Raglan Medical for emergency situations.

CEW are also looking at peer-to-peer energy trading between retailers, which would make it easier for local businesses to trade energy credits.

Rick mentions that these local initiatives reflect a larger need to focus on energy resilience and efficiency in regards to the overarching issue of climate change.

“We need to be smart about how we use electricity and we need to minimise - that's going to be a big one.” says Rick, adding that a robust network of renewable energy generation could eliminate dependencies on hydro dams, importing coal and burning gas.

CEW are currently working on launching their website and planning a number of events for the community. These events aim to introduce the organisation and its collaborative goals. If you are interested in learning more about Community Energy Whāingaroa, don’t hesitate to contact Jodi Pinfold by emailing jodi@cewh.org.nz.