THE photos in the Wonthaggi museum show state governments haven’t always looked kindly toward the State Coal Mine but times change. State government funding will soon enable a move to renewable energy at the mine, now a major tourist attraction.
Mine volunteer Steve Harrop recalls that over 20 years ago rising water in the shafts threatened to swamp pumps that weren’t up to their task. Summoned by the mine manager, Steve quickly calculated that raising the pumps five metres further up the shaft could provide time to work out a solution.
Steve and a crew of volunteers spent the next few hours in semi darkness, wading around in waste deep water, lifting the pumps as the local CFA and SES set up on the surface. Eventually 11 CFA pumps were running flat out to shift the water to the surface.
Those units started up on the Sunday morning of the Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 1995, and finally shut down at 5am on the following Tuesday. Steve’s muddy tale highlights the volume of water that needs to pumped, never less than 50,000 litres a day, even during severe droughts.
Currently two electric pumps handle the task but the rising price of power from the grid causes concern. Last Friday, Steve, now president of the Friends of the State Coal Mine, was one of the people who gathered to unveil an off-grid solution that will also help turn the mine into a showcase for the move from old energy to new energy.
The project is innovative, educational and demonstrates how to showcase our history using today’s technology. The Energy Innovation Co-Op received a grant from the State Government’s New Energy Jobs Fund to install 86kw of solar panels and, initially, 23 kWh of storage batteries.
The installation will be owned by the Energy Innovation Co-Op and sited on land leased from Parks Victoria who will buy the renewable energy generated on site.
The co-op will use this income to provide no-interest loans for community renewable energy projects. Government funding will also allow the employment of a part-time project and technical officer to oversee the installation and then assist with other projects.
The Bass Coast Foundation is providing $60,000 over the next four years and Bass Coast Shire Council is providing in-kind and financial support. Once more funding has been secured, future stages of the project will include community, school and other training in new technologies. The project is also expected to increase visitor levels as people come to see new technology in action.
Once it’s fully operational, this installation will save over 150 tonnes of carbon emissions annually, making it a great example of the transition to clean energy as well as decentralised power. The shire has a number of renewable energy systems and the recently adopted council plan includes reduction of the shire’s emissions.
As Steve Harrop talks about the amount of water and the power required to pump it out of the mine, he points to a spot in a paddock where all that water ends up “That would make a great wetlands, wouldn’t it?”