Cooler Places program to be put to test next summer

Solar panels have been installed on three village halls as part of the Cooler Places in a Warmer Climate project.
Solar panels have been installed on three village halls as part of the Cooler Places in a Warmer Climate project

A pilot program aimed at reducing the incidence and severity of heat-related illnesses in three vulnerable shire villages is wrapping up, with the next stage being to put three village halls, newly equipped as ‘cooler refuges’, to the test next summer.

The Cooler Places in a Warmer Climate program is looking at the needs of inland parts of the shire that are susceptible to heatwave, with a focus on the villages of Bemboka, Quaama and Wyndham.

Council’s Environmental Management Officer, Michael Fiedler said the villages were identified as relatively isolated and susceptible to future heatwaves.

There are two main components to the Cooler Places in a Warmer Climate project: community consultation and the installation of solar batteries with a plug-in generator option designed to allow the halls to be completely separated from the grid if needed.

“We’ve installed solar battery power in halls in each village and air-conditioning will soon be installed at Wyndham,” Mr Fiedler said.

“We’ve also met with residents and asked what they need in the halls to make sure they are fully equipped and useful cool refuges in a heatwave.

“People in rural communities often have fewer resources to protect themselves from extreme temperatures and the Cooler Places program is one way of ensuring access to heatwave relief for everyone.

“Our report following the community consultations will be complete in the coming weeks and will be used to inform hall committees and Council about what is needed to create cool refuges.

“It will capture what people say they need and how things might operate. The next step is to run a trial over the coming summer period. We’ll then update hall operation manuals and set about creating unique plans for each building.”

The halls at Bemboka, Quaama and Wyndham are now able to run off-the-grid most of the time as a result of the newly installed solar and battery combinations. The halls can operate with power for several hours by themselves during a blackout and there is an additional generator plug-in option.

Mr Fiedler said given the predicted increase in extreme weather events, understanding where vulnerable community members will go during a heatwave and putting in place preventative public health measures will help communities cope with a warming climate.

The Cooler Places in a Warmer Climate project is part of the adaptation actions identified in Council’s Climate Resilience Strategy and is funded under the NSW Government’s Increasing Resilience to Climate Change program.

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