Group sparking interest in renewable energy options

An environmentally focused group has set its sights on making Riverton fully reliant on renewable energy, and its first major project could be off the ground by the end of the year.
The Riverton Aparima Renewable Energy (RARE) Hub was set up to research, assist and support sustainable use of renewable energy and hydrogen for the benefit of the Riverton community. Group founder and chair Tony Hine believes the benefits of the group could also extend out further into Southland and across New Zealand.

The civil engineer moved to the town from Australia with his wife in 2010. He came up with the idea after a discussion with a mechanical engineer about whether the water under the river was efficient in speed to generate electricity. The conversation then moved to whether it might be possible to generate electricity as an emergency supply for the town, effectively making it energy resilient.

“That word resilient was actually a central theme of our conversation. And I thought I’d find out what the speed of the water is. Nobody has done any research into it and there is no data… The core element of the whole RARE Hub proposal started with that one discussion.”

The first major project for the group is to initiate a transportation link between Riverton and Invercargill using an electric van which RARE Hub is calling the the RAZE-TaxiBus Service (RivertonAparima Zero-Emission TaxiBus Service).

The service would provide daily commutes between Riverton and Invercargill, as well as doubling up as a rideshare service within Riverton and a shuttle service to Invercargill airport.

“As of right now we don’t have any public transport system that’s scheduled and that people can hop on, hop off or even a taxi,” Mr Hine said. “There is (also) no way to get to the airport from here unless you catch a lift with someone.”

Initial start up costs of the service would be $470,000 he said, which included the purchase of an electric van, installation of an electric charging station, as well as the hiring of drivers and other initial costs.

The annual running costs would drop “significantly” after the first year Mr Hine said.

The group, which is running as a non-profit entity, has applied for funding grants through a variety of sources.

“If funds were available tomorrow, the RAZE Taxi-Bus would be running within two to three months,” Mr Hine said.

The added benefit of having a charging station in the town would help drive tourism too, he said, with the nearest electric vehicle charging station to Riverton, outside of Invercargill, being in Te Anau.

Other plans for the group include continued research of water flow speed under the Riverton Bridge to be used in a hydro power system, as well as research into hydrogen, solar and wind power and being able to not only supply the town with energy, but also have back up sources in case of an emergency.

Mr Hine said the group was in constant communication with Environment Southland, the Southland District Council and the local community board over possible locations for renewable energy stations, which all required heavy amounts of research and funding.

“We can’t identify any one area yet because we still have to get off the ground and get some money to do a lot of the investigation,” he said.

The group, which currently has 24 members, has just setup a website as well as a Facebook page and is holding an online survey to gauge interest in the RAZE Taxi-Bus, as well as their other ideas.

“We are very community focused. That’s what we are intending to achieve. Benefit for the community in a lot of ways. One of them being helping people see that this area is nice.”

People wishing to take part in the survey can visit facebook.com/RAREHUB or rare-hubgroup.com

This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here

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