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Graziers turn to solar when wind drought bites

2015-06-29 09:56:32

They are a symbol of the bush and feature in just about every rural landscape, but a fifth-generation Queensland grazier says the days of the iconic windmill may be numbered.

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AUDIO: Erin Lawless and Dale Newman discuss the transition from wind to solar pumps (ABC Rural)

 

Erin Lawless from Heritage-listed Booubyjan Homestead, south west of Maryborough, said the drought has meant not just a shortage of water, but also a shortage of wind.

Her family farm was the first in the district to boast a windmill to pump water for stock as the homestead developed.

"Our first windmill here was established somewhere between 1902 and 1906 and it was a Chicago Air Motor, imported from the United States," she said

"[It was] brought out here by a foundry company in Brisbane called Smellie & Co that were big makers of all things iron back then."

Ms Lawless said her family had relied on the windmills for more than 100 years, but that long history was being threatened by emerging new technology.

"I really love our windmills they're pretty low maintenance and they're pretty reliable," she said.

"So long as you've got enough storage attached to them they just tick away all day and keep up a fairly reliable supply.

It's not uncommon to go through a wind drought, especially in summer, that can last months long where you don't get any water.

Dale Newman, solar technician

 

"They're pretty handy at keeping the bore levels ok because they just sort of tick away, especially the geared ones that you can sort of gear them back to make sure they're keeping up with the water levels, or pumping a bit more slowly."

During the extended drought of the 2000s the lack of water was matched by a lack of wind, putting desperately needed underground water out of reach, and the family turned to solar pumps.

"Hardly a breath of wind for months at a time so the solar just gave us another option," Ms Lawless said.

"We still had our windmills operating but as well we had solar just to spread our risk a bit.

"I think one of the benefits there is that when there's so little disturbance in the weather systems you can have an extended wind drought as well and that's certainly what we saw last year.

"There was just nothing happening in terms of weather at all and so the windmills went quiet as well as the rain so that's when the solar panels really became helpful."

She said many of her neighbours had gone in the same direction.

"Most of our neighbours have all had windmills and now are starting to embark on the solar panels particularly as the solar systems become more affordable," she said.

"I still think it's very important to have a mixture of both and then also to have a system where you can plug in a fire fighter pump too if you need to.

But Ms Lawless hoped windmills would stay a feature of farming landscapes.

"They're pretty nice," she said.

"I suppose it just depends on each individual farm, what's convenient and serviceable.

"The servicing on solar panels and the solar panel systems, they're still pretty specialised.

"Whereas the windmills, some things you can do yourself , but then if it's not something that you can repair yourself, there's not many windmill repairmen about any more."

There's definitely a move towards solar pumps but windmills still play a major part in pumping water in rural Australia.

Dale Newman, solar technician

 

Queensland Windmill and Solar technician Dale Newman said he has also noticed a move away from the windmill.

"There's definitely a move towards solar pumps, but you know windmills, they still play a major part in pumping water in rural Australia."

He said lower cost solar systems and a better acceptance of technology is driving the push.

"The cost of solar panels has dropped a lot in the past few years, and recently people are becoming more accepting of new technology and they basically want something with more constant water than a windmill," he said.

"With the windmill, it's a proven technology, they've stood the test of time, they've been around for over a century, but the downside is they only pump when the wind blows and it's not uncommon to go through a wind drought, especially in summer, that can last months long where you don't get any water."

He said there are workplace health and safety issues with windmills that are not an issue when maintaining solar pumps.

"It's a lot easier, a lot of it can be done by yourself," he said.

"If you do have to pull it up it only takes about an hour and a half, with a windmill it can take all day, two days."

He said windmills were often no longer the first choice for water pumps, and had to compete with solar, diesel and grid powered devices.

But he said, while the role of the windmill might not be the same as it was when the Chicago Air Motor was first installed at Booubyjan Homestead, there was still a place for them in rural Australia.

"We sell more windmills now for garden features than we do for watering stock, surprisingly," he said.

"They definitely have a lot of character, the old windmill."

Original Article:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-23/windmills-replaced-by-solar/6563480
By Kallee Buchanan

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