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May 31: Environment

By Leaders Forum 2017 participant Adrian Tinetti

A brisk Ballarat morning greeted us for the last day of autumn as we continued our 2017 Leaders Forum journey with Leadership Ballarat & Western Region. The theme for the day was our environment with a goal of understanding how global environmental challenges are being addressed at a local level.

Our first destination was the Waubra Wind Farm. Acciona representatives Cameron Stowe and Kirsten Lee gave us great insight into the 128-turbine farm, the largest in the southern hemisphere when constructed. We toured one of the turbines and Cameron challenged us to be ambassadors for renewable energy, as he did for over 1500 school students who toured the facility last year.

Waubra farmer Doug Hobson confirmed the benefits of the wind farm for local landowners and the broader Waubra community. He urged us to appreciate that farmers in general are conservationists and that local engagement with farmers is crucial for long-term benefits. This was evident through Acciona’s model of building, operating and maintaining the wind farm for many years to come.

After a brief visit to Ballarat Solar Park, our next stop was Gekko. Tony Stone, General Manager – Biogas Technology, outlined Gekko’s diversification plan to adapt its world-class mining technology and collaborate with researchers.
Tony explained Gekko’s biodigester cell which breaks down cow manure to generate energy and liquid fertiliser without the hydrogen sulfide stink. As Tony said, “pumping manure is not much different from pumping rock slurry”. We will watch with interest over the coming months how this trial progresses with a local dairy farm, with scope to adapt for other forms of animal and green waste. We saw first-hand how Gekko is putting its “smarter together” tagline into action.

We then had an insightful session with City of Ballarat Councillor Belinda Coates who showed how our environment is fundamental to every part of our lives. We need to follow Cr Coates’ example of changing our world for the better and believing we can have a significant impact on the environment in which we live and work. How about we start by banning plastic bags?

Our final presenter was John Frdelja, Manager, Strategic Asset Management and Planning, Central Highlands Water. John demonstrated the pressures on water systems created by urban development and the ongoing need for better utilisation of wastewater and stormwater. As a previous Leaders Forum participant, John also challenged us to find the necessary skills to create “ripples of influence”.

Overall, we were struck by each presenter’s enthusiasm for their organisation and the environment. In a time of global uncertainty as Donald Trump withdraws the US from the Paris climate accord, we can be clear that our region is addressing global environmental challenges for the benefit of future generations.