When a neighbour refused to allow a power pole to be erected on their land, Helmut and Sue Woerner were unable to connect their rural property to the electricity grid. However, with a bit of persistence, some further education and a lot of innovation, the couple were able to enjoy their country paradise with more than enough power.
Deciding they’d had enough of living in a rapidly growing suburb of Geelong, Helmut and Sue Woerner asked an estate agent to help them find a small rural block of around 5 acres or so.
After a fruitless search for somewhere that was within half an hour of Helmut’s work, they eventually spotted some land for sale near Meredith, a small town about half way between Geelong and Ballarat.
“We were looking for 5 acres, but somehow ended up with 235 of them!” laughs Helmut.
Not only was it the beginning of a new rural lifestyle for the Woerner’s, but also a period of re-education, in both how to connect power to the site and land management.
“We bought the land in February 1992 and arranged with the then SEC to connect power,” Helmut explains. “However, the neighbour refused the application to have one power pole on his land, which really set the cat amongst the pigeons.”
“We had the choice of selling the bare land and making loss, or researching off grid power, attending seminars and on-site visits to stand alone properties. We chose the latter.”
To learn more about off-gridding, the couple attended seminars and field days in Geelong and Ballarat, also visiting a stand-alone property in Steiglitz.
“The solar system at that house was quite primitive and inside was very dark, which certainly wasn’t what we were looking for.”
Initially, on a tight budget following the house build, the couple sourced two old Testra batteries, a square wave inverter that needed to be manually switched on and off and a handful of second hand solar panels.
The Woerner’s upgraded that system in 2007 to include 18 x 75W solar panels and a Soma 1kW wind generator, followed by another upgrade last year which added 20 X 225W solar panels and 2 x 1660Ahr lead acid battery banks, a Selectronic SP PRO 3.6kW continuous inverter and rectifier, fuses and safety switches.
“We have certainly come a long way and I’m pleased to say that we have not lost power once,” says Helmut. “We produce more power than we use and, in conjunction with our other sustainable activities, are very pleased we are only leaving a very small carbon footprint.”
These other sustainable activities include some impressive agricultural work, which came about after Helmut attended The Gordon, the local TAFE, to complete a Certificate in Wool Classing, a Diploma of Agriculture, followed by a Master Tree Growers course through the University of Sydney.
“For a number of years we’ve been planting no-irrigation furniture timber which is positioned one and a half metres apart, then thinned out and clear pruned.
“We’ve also established tree plantations and wood lots, as well as planted a line of native trees from the bush in the nearby Bamganie State Forest through to our dams that is a safe corridor for wildlife.”
The Woerners are clearly settled into their sustainable rural lifestyle and say the neighbour’s refusal to allow them a grid connection, while stressful at the time, was really a blessing in disguise.
“We generate all our own power and we’re not contributing to environmental pollution,” says Helmut. “Along with our veggie patches and edible gardens we’re quite self sufficient.”
“I believe the key to living with stand alone power is to have a reliable, efficient system that is well designed to meet your needs.”
“We’ve found off-grid living extremely rewarding.”
The Woerners house will be open for the Geelong Sustainable House Open Day on 24th October. More information here.
Emma Sutcliffe is a journalist, climate activist & proud owner of an off-grid property in Little River, near Melbourne. As Contributing Editor to One Step Off The Grid she meets other off-gridders, a job that makes use of her considerable skills for nattering & drinking tea. If you’d like to share your story, she’d love to hear from you.