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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Drying Racks, Grain Grinder, Macadamia Cracker, Olive Trees, Bobcat, New South Wales (Australia) Solar Bonus Scheme

Drying racks

Drying Racks
Some years ago we were lucky enough to be offered some pasta drying racks in exchange for a little labour assistance. What a bonus these turned out to be. Although they were old, damaged and had been repaired many times it didn’t take all that long to refurbish them. The joints were strengthened and the metal flyscreen repaired. The racks slide into a metal stand that is on castors. All this was cleaned, rust proofed and painted. The stand has 18 large slide out drying racks.
The racks are now used to dry Garlic, Basil, Chillies, Turmeric, Macadamias, onions and anything else that comes along.

Grain Grinder

Grain Grinder
This little gem was obtained from friend many years ago. The electric motor needed replacing. We put in a more powerful unit to ensure it could take a heavier duty cycle. The grinding stones had cracked but with carefully fitted stainless steel bands tightened around them they have carried on for nearly 20 years.
The flour is quite coarsely ground but still makes very good bread and pasta.  The bread always seems nicer with fresh flour.

Macadamia Cracker

Macadamia Cracker

The only problems with macadamia nuts are husking and cracking. This machine solves both problems. We bought the base unit which is manually operated. The first pass through, one section de-husks, and the second pass through, another section cracks the shell. There are many add on pieces available to automate such as a motor connection, feed in trays and feed out graders etc. The whole thing can be ramped up to a commercial unit. For us though this simple base unit is adequate. It is permanently setup so that as we need some nuts we process what we require in a few minutes.

Olive Tree Problems

Olive Tree Bug
Well all this wet and humid weather has been great for most of the orchard trees but the olive trees are suffering badly. No longer is there luscious new green shoots. Instead they are the colour of grey and brown. Black spots underneath the leaves indicate the presence of a pest in massive proportions. With the smaller trees the solution has been to wash the foliage with soapy water and dislodge the bugs. This may need to be done again. How often this will need to be done is an outstanding question. With the larger trees the only thing to do initially is spray the entire foliage with the soapy solution. As a last resort it may mean spraying with vegetable oil.


Bobcat as in bull dozer or backhoe came to us via the local vet. A full male sent to the vet to be euthanized as the family no longer wanted his company. Apparently trying to starve him hadn’t worked as he still hung around although a bit leaner. You could see he was desperate for affection. Although wary,he still purred when stroked.  Getting to the stroking stage did take some time. The initial reaction was to place his mouth over your hand as a warning. Not bite enough to break the skin, but a definite warning to be careful.

Prior to arrival at the farm he was de-sexed. This must not be a pleasant event for a mature cat. The bobcatty area at the rear was definitely off limits to the human hand no matter how affectionate he became with time.
Bobcat’s arrival coincided with a rat plague in our ceiling space. The earlier attempts by others to starve him had created an efficient killing machine. Within a month very few rats survived. Those that did led a miserable existence; too afraid to come out they subsisted on glass wool insulation and wood.  Off came the roof one winter and the mess vacuumed, new insulation installed and all access areas vermin proofed. No more rats in the belfry. Bobcat turned his attention to the farm buildings to maintain his skill set.
Everyone (except a one-eyed cat called Lucinda) was frightened of Bobcat (including his new parents). He maintained a strict discipline. Out hunting (or playing cards and drinking with his mates – who knows?) all night then home promptly at 5am when the Friskies were put out for breakfast. The only one of five cats who could remember which was his bowl at meal time he would sit quietly at his bowl with tail neatly curled and wait patiently as long as needed for the food to be put out.
As time moved on the affection and trust from him grew and he became more and more touchable. The dogs still gave him a wide birth.
Then exactly a year ago he didn’t arrive for breakfast. His body was on the road 300 metres from the house. At first he looked as if asleep. A closer look showed a little blood on his mouth. The dear little bloke had been heading home for his breakfast and never made it. He’s buried at his favourite spot out the front of the house where he would sit and look over his valley thinking how lucky he was to find a good home.

New South Wales (Australia) Solar Bonus Scheme

This is an interesting scheme. Originally the state government only offered a net rebate i.e. you got paid for anything produced above your own consumption at the same rate you would pay for any kilowatts you used. Then came what seemed an extraordinary new scheme where you would be paid 60 cents per kW for all the electricity you produced while only paying back the 19 cents for what you consumed. On top of this was the federal government rebate up to $8000 depending on the size of your installation. The only provisos were that the scheme would be reviewed in 2 years or when the installed base reached 50 MW and the scheme would offer the rebate for 7 years from start up.
This original gross feed in rebate seemed very generous, but was it? The latest modification to the scheme of 20 cents per kW certainly makes it less of a business case to the point where it is really only for the conviction environmentalists, and even in that grouping only those with the income or assets to make the investment on any scale.
When assessing the business case or even the practicality of installing solar panels, there are some matters to be taken into account.
Firstly, if you are passionately green and have access to the funds required and are not concerned with the business case, then go for broke and put in the biggest system you can afford or fit on your block.
If not in the above group then look at the following points that need consideration:
1)   Remember from day one you will be still paying for your electricity at the current rate. So it is not free and you will still need to perform all the tasks that are recommended to keep your consumption down.  The price per kW has been going up each year. Last year it went up by 20%. This year, in our area, it went up another 20%. Why? Because the government decided it needed some money, not because the cost of generation went up or there was a carbon trading scheme. The government pocketed something like $200 M. They probably need the money to pay for the scheme.
2)   Each panel you buy has a rated output . Your chances of achieving that are zero or less. The rated output is based on that panel being in ideal conditions. Those conditions are as follows:
a)   The temperature at which the panels work best vary from brand to brand, some say 20 degrees Celsius and others 25 This means that the panels will be in ideal temperatures during very few times of the day and year depending on your location.  The hotter they get, the less efficient they become.
b)   The panel faces the sun at the correct angle both horizontally and vertically. Unless you buy a sun tracking unit or mount a hinged frame to adjust seasonally, then the angle will be incorrect most of the year, reducing efficiency.
c)   The sun is shining and not obscured by smoke, cloud or the shade of the trees nearby. Again conditions vary by location, but be assured there are plenty of unhelpful days.
3)   The payback period will be much longer than that advertised.
a)   If you were looking at a business case then a payback of 3-5 years or less is what you would like. If you are staring at a payback of 7-15 years then think about how much you would earn if you put that money aside and kept re-investing the interest. If you’ve borrowed the money, look at how much interest you will pay.
b)   Once the scheme goes back to net in seven years that may well be the time to look at what is available and at what cost. The money you have saved by not buying the system now may pay for the next generation system. Especially if the technology continues to advance at the current pace. Even the existing technology has decreased significantly in cost in just the last 12 months. How much cheaper will it be in a few years time as world production ramps up.
c)   If you have had the past opportunity to install the panels as a commercial arrangement i.e. as part of a business when the federal government was offering a 50% deduction on capital investment you would have been in a much better position especially with the rebate and the deduction of GST.
4)   Some people in our area who have installed panels have reported very poor results. One in particular reports the income being only 40% of the forecast amount. Another who has measured the KW output meticulously for the first 12 months reports a result of 60% efficiency.
5)   Then of course there are those areas that do not have the infrastructure to cope with the volume of electricity being fed back to the grid.
It seems the original scheme seemed too good to be true which means it was too good to be true. The happy side of the state’s cynical attempt to promote solar power was that it took off with a bang and generated lots of employment and made some businessmen wealthier. The not so happy side was that money came from lots of well intentioned people who were not provided with all the information they needed.
The problem with fixed price rebate is that it lends itself to be overtaken by the increasing price of power. A multiple of the price per KW scheme would have been better.
The scheme does not provide no interest loans which would make it viable to low income households.
The seven year time limit meant only earlier adopters could obtain maximum benefit. A 20 year scheme from day of installation is more realistic.
The only reason for mentioning this was we almost invested a small fortune in the scheme. After talking to a few implementers, obtaining quotes and spread sheeting some scenarios we realised that waiting was a much better option for us.

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