By Lyndall Parris
2019 has come and nearly gone, with a full year of activity behind us. It is time to say Happy Christmas, New Year and Holidays and give you an update on the extraordinary Narara Ecovillage (NEV) people and project.
As the fires in our region continue as a threat to Narara Ecovillage, the solidarity within the community grows stronger and stronger. Now we reflect on 2019, which saw some significant milestones as well as some challenges:
- More individual homes built and occupied:
Of the 60 homes spoken for in Stage 1, giving us a community of ~170 (35 children), there are now 12 houses occupied. There are 26 more homes under construction and other lots awaiting DA approval or design finalisation.
- The builder of our 18-unit cluster housing project went into liquidation:
After this challenging news in October, at approximately 60% completion, we are now very close to settling on a new builder and are hopeful that they will be on site in early January to complete these homes, so that these patient folk can become residents asap.
- Building Review Panel (BRP) is successfully operational:
Over a number of years NEV members have developed building standards to ensure high energy efficiency, water conservation and environmental and human health were maintained. Internally trained volunteer members assist other members with their individual designs before being finally assessed by the panel. Approved plans are then stamped electronically before being submitted to Council for DA approval. Council has welcomed this initiative and DA approval periods have been relatively short.
- The Coffee Cart:
We bought a coffee cart! In absence of appropriate zoning to start our café, we decided to bring the café in on wheels. Not only is it a social hub for members and visitors alike, it has also added to the utility of our Visitors Centre which is now being hired out by more community groups for events. It is an extraordinary Nararian (Candy Disch), who made this possible. Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 8am – 3pm, and on our monthly Open Day.
- Stage 2 Masterplanning:
The Development Application (DA) for Stage 2 is about to be lodged any day now with Central Coast Council (CCC), after delays in the adoption of the new Consolidated Local Environment Plan (LEP) required us to change our plans with the associated delays. We have 22 households already on the list for future residency in Stage 2.
- Renewal of rezoning initiative (Planning Proposal):
The situation with the deferred adoption of the LEP has forced the early commencement of a simple Planning Proposal to run concurrently with the Stage 2 DA to provide for essential features. Council has indicated their support for this approach.
Essentially we’re looking to secure smaller lot sizes, dual occupancy and a limited number of ‘multi dwelling’ houses so that we can offer smaller footprint and more housing affordability at Narara Ecovillage. We are also defining some limited retail and commercial areas, that can be let out and generate income for the co-op to cover some of our overheads and operations.
- Water services at Narara Ecovillage:
Despite the successful and historic achievement of being granted Network Operators and Retail Supplier licenses by the NSW Minister for Utilities to provide potable water and wastewater treatment services for the ecovillage, the technology ultimately chosen resulted in a high operating cost and an unacceptable annual member contribution in the long run. At about this time, Central Coast Council approached NEV suggesting we apply for connection to their services (town water and sewer), indicating that more affordable options now would apply. The historical context being that NEV was told in 2012 that costs for connection to Council services would run to the tens of millions. This is the path we have chosen for now.
The use of the recycled water reticulation network will be adapted to use water from the dam, significantly reducing the use of town water.
- Two major sustainability events – Mad About Dirt and Sustainable House Day:
Attracting hundreds of new visitors to the ecovillage, both events enabled the celebration of soil and sustainable homes respectively and further places Narara Ecovillage as a leader in the regenerative and sustainability field.
- Challenges with Ausgrid:
Upon receiving the Federal government’s Australian Renewal Energy Agency (ARENA) grant of $1.16m to build a Smart Grid at Narara Ecovillage, NEV Power Pty Ltd was established as a wholly owned subsidiary of NEV to act as grant recipient and retail electrical provider for the village.
With 10 occupied houses, and 55 kwp of solar panels on our collective roofing, we have been met with another challenge – we are currently not allowed to connect more than 30kwp in power from our solar panels. As an interim measure we have disabled the 30kwp community PV on the Admin Building allowing residents to connect the PV on their newly built houses for their own power consumption needs.
There was an expectation that NEV Power was exempt from the 30kwp limit as we are a trial site for Ausgrid to understand the impact of high-density PV along with the imported transformer. However, this trial status was challenged by Ausgrid, meaning we need to comply with their standards and implement grid protection controls. Once complete we will be able to connect all houses as planned.
After months of discussions with Ausgrid, we believe we have a resolution and hope we can turn on all our solar panels once more by mid-2020. Meanwhile, discussions continue with ARENA and we are negotiating changes to the milestones and payment schedules necessary as a result of the delays.
- Food production underway:
The Triple Span, a dilapidated green house on the flood plain is now reviving with tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, asian greens, lettuces, basil and more happily growing. Ultimately we hope to sell fresh, organic produce not only to our residents, but to our other local friends. One of the spans is also gearing up for the implementation of an Aquaponics project.
- Membership and Financial stability:
2019 saw continued interest in the ecovillage project with good attendance at our monthly Open Days. As in previous years a number of members have withdrawn from the co-op for personal reasons, but with new members joining the net effect is the community has remained largely stable.
The project is financed through Co-op membership joining fees (at issue of individual Titles, transferring to a purchase deposit), member loans and annual contributions. We do not bank finance.
Some Co-op assets are available for rent or use by members and revenue is being generated. Over time it is anticipated this revenue will increase sufficiently to cover the costs of NEV operations.
It is worth noting that during the year a study was carried out by the University of Wollongong entitled ‘An investigation in the sustainable practises of ecovillages’ with a view to supporting the successful development of NEV businesses that will support the economic stability of the community in years to come. Simultaneously a number of initiatives from the NEV Business Team have also emerged, most notably Collective Know-How, formed for the purpose of creating educational programmes within NEV.
- The Future:
Narara Ecovillage has been building since 2006 and has seen significant economic and bureaucratic challenges and delays. It is a credit to Nararians that these have been weathered and that despite trials and tribulations, we have emerged stronger and more grounded.
With construction of individual houses well underway and the prospect of the cluster houses recommencing shortly, we look forward to a very dramatic 2020 with our estimated population growing from the current 27 adults and 11 children to around 100.
For further details, please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and come to an Open Day so that we can warmly welcome you in 2020.