Sailing towards a sustainable future: Peter Lynch and Salena Bryce (back row) with Nixon Silas (left), machinist Brian Grady
Sailing towards a sustainable future: Peter Lynch and Salena Bryce (back row) with Nixon Silas (left), machinist Brian Grady

Powering a nation

By UTE SCHULENBERG

PETER Lynch is not just building a boat on the Dorrigo Mountain.

The way he puts it, together with his wife Salena Bryce and Solomon Islanders Nixon Silas and Puia Mosely, he is building an alternative future for village people in Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations.

As a volunteer worker with the non-government organisation, APACE, it was several years ago that Mr Lynch realised energy was the key to sustainable development in the islands.

A qualified mechanical engineer, this led to him developing micro hydro-electric turbines to supply clean power to villages.

"The key point about the hydro turbines is they generate energy without polluting or interrupting the water flows they use," Mr Lynch said.

In 1998 Mr Lynch and Salena Bryce founded Pelena Energy to help bring alternative energy to villages in Solomon Islands.

It quickly became clear that getting proper back-up for the new technology was a major problem.

"So many aid programs deliver the hardware without the back-up... who would buy a tractor with no spare parts?" Mr Lynch said.

"There was also the problem of how people would pay for the parts and how to get the parts to them."

"In Solomons, it costs people more to travel to the bank than they earn in a year," Ms Bryce added.

Enter Nixon Silas and the founding of PRESI ? Pelena Rural Energy Solomon Islands.

"Nixon is like our agent in Solomons, if you like. Through PRESI we have been able to set up microfinancing for communities to pay for items," Mr Lynch said.

But there was still one missing link ? transport. Hence the boat, which is currently under construction in a disused timber yard on the edge of Dorrigo.

"The boat has the shallow draught of an oyster barge but with a wave piercing hull," he said.

"It is 11m long (37 feet) and can carry 24 adults and 10 children plus cargo."

And there's more.

It is propelled by a diesel jet unit, which means there is no propeller to get smashed on reefs or coconuts and locally produced coconut oil can be used as an alternative fuel.

For Mr Silas, the project provides vital alternatives for villages under threat from illegal logging companies.

"The logging companies promise so much but then they leave and there is no benefit to the people ? their food, water and building materials are all gone," Mr Silas said.

"We need this transport to connect people and we need to give the power back to the villages.

"It is a big challenge showing people these new things, but overall I am glad to do this for rural Solomon Islanders."

But why Dorrigo?

"Dorrigo has water, sun and wind plus a history of hydro-electricity," Mr Lynch said. "It has all the elements we wanted to create a centre for appropriate technology development."

And finally, there is the sweet irony of a business offering alternatives to logging in the South Pacific being set-up in an historic timber town.



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