Most firefighters know that climate change is leading to longer and more intense fire seasons. This is changing how we fight fires. It highlights the fact that, as a local and global community, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a matter of urgency.
Many local brigades are also doing their bit to reduce emissions. Installing renewable power and storage can also build the resilience of local brigades when fire threatens town electricity supplies. Here are a few stories from around Victoria.
[Header image: Newham CFA members, image via MRSG].
In north central Victoria, the goldfields town of Tarnagulla is excited about the recent installation of a solar power system and battery storage at its local fire station thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal fund, a $5,000 MASH Community Bonus, and local community fund-raising. Captain George Filev notes that Tarnagulla is in a high risk fire zone, the threat of which will only increase with the onset of climate change.
‘The Tarnagulla community is keen to rise to the challenge and put measures in place to increase its capacity to adapt and provide resilience during emergency events should the electricity grid go down’.
The local SES Unit now has complete protection from power outages thanks to the recent installation of a community-funded solar and battery system.
Funding for the 6.6kW solar panels system was provided by the Mallee Sun Solar Bulk-Buy in partnership with Swan Hill Rural City Council and the Tesla Powerwall 2 battery was funded from money raised through the annual Duck Race organised by the Swan Hill SES.
Deputy Controller, Swan Hill Unit Victorian State Emergency Service, Rob Merrett said the system would be a big advantage.
“Prior to having this system installed, if there was a power outage our computers and radios would go down and there would be a gap of 15 to 30 minutes before they were powered up again”.
The Swan Hill Unit is also the Divisional Command Point for a much larger region whereby a large–scale event in this area will be managed from our Unit under the command of an Incident Control Centre.
Maiden Gully Fire Brigade said other local CFA stations could benefit from solar and battery systems like theirs.
The brigade received its 6.6-kilowatt system about 12 months ago, resulting in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from about six tonnes to just over two.
Electricity bills have been reduced by 85 per cent, down from $1550 to $250 a year.
“The CFA pays the power bill, but it’s still community money and it’d be better to have that money go to fire trucks and better equipment,” treasurer Andrew Howlett said.
“The most obvious benefit is that when the power goes out, we don’t lose power. We can still open our doors and our computer systems don’t go down, so we’ve still got our maps.”
Mr Howlett said over the 12 months there have been at least 15 outages due to storms or maintenance work, but the solar battery keeps the power on.
He also said the project was an example of CFA brigades’ community leadership.
“We should be showing we’re responsible citizens,” he said. “We might fight fires and do all that critical stuff, but we’re also trying to do the right thing in terms of carbon.
“We understand about climate change because we see it, we’ve seen it for many years.”
North eastern Victoria
CFA’s Bogong Group, in partnership with Indigo Shire Council, successfully applied for a Federal Government grant of more than $500,000 for the Bogong Group Bushfire Resilience Power Project.
The solar panels and batteries will be installed at Allan’s Flat, Beechworth, Dederang, Falls Creek, Gundowring, Kergunyah, Kiewa, Mt Beauty, Sandy Creek and Charleroi, Stanley, Tawonga, and Wooragee fire stations.
The project is expected to be delivered within two years, under the auspices of Indigo Shire Council.
It will add to the more than 40 CFA fire stations across the state that have solar electricity generating systems, along with CFA HQ in Burwood East.
General Manager Infrastructure Services Anthony Ramsay said solar panels installed by brigades are one of many sustainability measures being undertaken across the organisation.
“One of our most energy efficient initiatives is the selection of materials for new buildings which can substantially reduce the energy they require,” he said.
“We also select appropriate fitting such as energy efficient lightbulbs and hot water systems.”
“CFA is also working to reduce emissions in our transport vehicle fleet, with eight fully electric vehicles and a growing number of hybrid vehicles expected to reach 34% by June 2022.
“Our trucks use utilising recycling programs so components such as batteries and tyres from tankers and other operational vehicles don’t end up in landfill.”
Newham CFA brigade is a grateful beneficiary of a 5kW solar power system installation thanks to a grant from MRSG’s Renewable Energy Fund. MRSG President, David Gormley-O’Brien, says that MRSG is delighted to support the important work that the Newham CFA volunteers do to protect our region during fire season and hopes that more funds will become available to expand the installation to include battery storage in the future thereby providing some resilience in case of cuts to the electricity grid in an emergency event.
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