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Trading local energy was the topic of discussion at Katoomba’s March 2017 Big Ideas Futures Forum: a Blue Mountains Living Lab initiative co-hosted by the Blue Mountains Youth Summit. The idea is that if you have solar panels and storage batteries you can  trade your solar energy on a virtual a platform that connects you with community members who want to buy it. If you are concerned about rising energy prices, the platform offers the opportunity to purchase locally farmed clean energy at a competitive rate.

Nexergy founded by Darius Salgo and Grant Young, is creating a fairer energy system, where individual investment in renewable energy is rewarded and more sustainable living can be made available to all.  Similarly to 'Airbnb', Nexergy’s local energy trading platform is "a win-win: those with solar and batteries get better returns, and buyers reduce their energy costs”.

The concept is not new for other parts of the world, but Nexergy is introducing the benefits to communities around Australia and developing a following that will hopefully create more inspiring success stories. Grant Young points out that Australian rooftop solar energy now exceeds Snowy Hydro Scheme production. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that by 2040 a third of Australia’s energy supply will be produced "behind the metre": from privately-owned PV solar systems.

The Escarpment Groups ‘Hydro Majestic Hotel’ at Medlow Bath has entered a new phase of sustainability with five direct injection compost units, or ‘Macerators’ to be installed at the Hydro Majestic, Lilianfels Resort & Spa and Echoes Boutique Hotel this month to manage the vast amount of organic waste produced.

The macerator grinds up all kitchen food waste and pumps it into a tank that is electronically monitored.  When approaching full capacity, notification is received by the service company and a truck takes the reduced contents to an organic ‘pulp’ to an EPA approved broad acre farm to be ‘directly’ injected onto a paddock

The Hydro Majestic produces 1.5 tonnes of food waste weekly. A national hospitality sector food waste study estimates 40% of restaurant and hotel food ends up in landfill annually. Escarpment Group’s Chief Engineer, Peter Redman, has spent 7 years researching sustainability options to lower the Group’s large amount of food waste, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decision was prompted by a $127,000 NSW government’s Bin Trim Business Grant, to invest in direct injection units for their commercial kitchens at a total cost of $300,000.  “Considering we spend $311 per tonne sending food waste to landfill, and produce two to three tonnes of food waste across Lilianfels, Echoes and the Hydro Majestic Hotels, the gross savings amount to $75,000 a year.  The investment will be recuperated in two years, the venture is commercially and environmentally viable and sets a precedent’. says Peter.

Also moving towards low carbon operations, Blue Mountains City Council’s Carbon Abatement Action will identify “carbon hotspots” within Council operations, and develop and fund projects to reduce carbon emissions in those areas. Council’s introduced green bin service and ongoing education and capacity building programs have reduced domestic organic waste going to landfill.

Business organic waste to landfill remains an issue. Council is supporting and promoting the NSW EPAs highly successful Bin Trim program for businesses interested in reducing carbon emissions due to waste going to landfill go to: http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/managewaste/120792-bin-trim.pdf

One Escarpment Group long-term goal is to develop their Parklands’ 3000sqm kitchen garden to fully supply all four local properties. Another goal is to invest in solar energy. General Manager, Ralf Bruegger, explains that design, durability and investment return are all factors being considered.  Hydro Majestic’s current energy provider is Origin Energy. “The hotels’ energy consumption is predominantly during off-peak times (night and weekends) so gas and electricity bills are not exorbitant”,

Ralf argues that “it is important to meet our guests’ expectations of a luxurious experience, but also be conscientious of our carbon footprint”. Ralf is confident guests are aware of what can be achieved without lowering standards or compromising on comfort.

Katoomba’s Shelton-Lea Bed & Breakfast’s owners, Jenny and Paul McLaughlin, manage four self-contained private suites at their classic Blue Mountains bungalow. They are Gold rated LCL members  with solar panels, a water tank, LED light bulbs, waste recycling, energy-efficient fridges and appliances, separately zoned central heating, environmentally-friendly toiletries in the bathrooms, free-range meat, eggs and local produce-sourced breakfasts, worm farming and composting.  They have a TripAdvisor ‘Green Leaders’ Platinum level distinction.

Jenny and Paul began worm farming four years ago with two worm farms shaded at the rear of the property. Worm farms can consume large quantities of food waste and  produce copious amounts of ‘worm tea’ and castings, an ideal nutrient-rich garden fertiliser. “The worms came with the starter kits and we have thousands of worms now”, says Jenny. They are fed food scraps from the B&B with the exception of meat, citrus and eggshells.

Katoomba North Public School (KNPS) is the first school to join the Blue Mountains - Low Carbon Living program, committing to reducing its carbon footprint. Whilst constrains of the public school system make localised change challenging, the KNPS community are determined to make a change.  KNPS’s Principal, Cathy Clark, has embarked on a sustainability plan involving the whole school community. Encouraging environmental awareness, providing ongoing educational opportunities, and encouraging community contributions towards developing a wholehearted sustainable living mindset and practices, are key.

Local owner of the award winning Rooster Restaurant and Jamison Guesthouse, Ross Delaney has made significant renovations to the heritage-listed building to ensure energy efficiency without compromising the 1890s Edwardian architecture or structure. Double-glazing, time regulated central heating, waste management, LED lighting and energy efficient globes he been installed since joining the LCL Program 2 years ago.  

Katoomba’s Bendigo Bank is the first Upper Blue Mountains bank to invest in solar panels. The bank is making a conscious effort to reduce its carbon footprint, commit to helping the environment and set an example for other businesses.

“Renewable energy isn’t just an environmental statement, it’s economically smart,” proclaims a billboard mounted on the pavement outside its branch.

 

Katoomba’s iconic Carrington Hotel has undergone a number of upgrades to reduce its environmental impact. The installation of a co-generation plant has greatly improved energy efficiency, by using waste heat from electricity generation for heating purposes.  This offers an estimated 15% reduction in carbon emissions compared to using grid-based electricity.

Lillianfels impressive efforts to reduce energy use include lighting upgrades, changes to cooling and heating controls, and the implementation of a sophisticated energy recovery system. These measures have contributed to a 25% decline in electricity use per customer since 2010. The carbon savings from this drop in energy use equate to over 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year – a 20% saving compared to what emissions would otherwise have been.

Wild Valley Art Park features an impressive range of sustainability features. All electricity is obtained from solar panels, and all water is sourced from rainwater tanks or the on-site dam. Due to this self-sufficiency, Wild Valley’s carbon footprint is estimated to be less than one tenth of what it would be if energy and water were sourced from the NSW electricity grid and water supply.

Silvermere Guest House have reduced their potable water usage by around 40% by implementing a number of innovative water saving initiatives.  These include recycling roof and bath water, filtering stormwater through ponds, and minimising garden watering using mulch and grass cuttings.  The reduction in water usage has in turn resulted in a significant decline in Silvermere’s carbon dioxide emissions.