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Sharing with you Taraloka’s action on Sustainable Energy: Written by Maitrisiddhi
Up till 2010, Taraloka was heated by oil – non-renewable fossil fuel pumped out of the ground thousands of miles away, with all the effects on the environment when burnt, and sea spillage risks en route. Now, Taraloka is heated by biomass boilers, supplied from sustainable Welsh and English forestry.
When I moved here, in 2009, plans were already afoot to try to improve Taraloka’s carbon footprint. Care for the environment and trying to act ethically and for the welfare of all is central to Buddhist practice. I think everyone wanted Taraloka to move towards sustainable energy – of course – but the decisions aren’t always easy.
Could Taraloka afford it? Wood pellet boilers cost 4 or 5 times what new oil-fired boilers would cost.
Would we be able to source reliable pellets when so few wood pellet boilers were around? At the time wood pellet boilers were relatively innovative in the UK. Now, many schools, hospitals and private houses have them, but Taraloka’s was in the first wave. This was a real problem, and was only surmounted because our boiler suppliers guaranteed that they would deliver pellets until the supply chain became established.
Kulaprabha put a huge amount of energy into finding what grants were available, and she managed to get Taraloka a grant from the Government for half the 120k cost, and a further 18K grant from Scottish Power’s Green Fund. This still left Taraloka paying a lot more for new boilers than if we’d gone with replacing with oil-fired ones. But it was worth it.
So we replaced the old boilers with new wood pellet boilers. I love them, myself. They look like something out of Star Trek, but when you open the base, there’s just a little fire burning away in there. And they’re 93% efficient (oil is more like 40% efficient). And because our wood pellets are supplied from sustainable English and Welsh forestry, they don’t have far to come.
With the same grants, we also had hot water solar panels installed – four sets in all, two in the retreat centre, and two in the house. They’re great – in summer they produce almost all of the hot water for the 8 or 10 of us living in the house. In the retreat centre it’s trickier, because if 30 people want to shower in the morning (before the sun’s got hot) the solar needs back-up from the wood pellet boilers.
Taraloka’s shift towards more sustainable energy is continuing. Up till 2013, the Old Granary (that’s the shrine room and lofts bedrooms) was heated by electricity, including ancient storage heaters from the 1980’s. Our electricity was from a standard provider, so the power would have been largely produced by fossil fuel-fired power stations. In 2013, we had big trenches dug and pipes laid to link the Old Granary in to the biomass boilers – so now all our site except the office is heated by wood pellets instead of electricity. That was a further investment of 20k to have that work done.
So now we’re looking at electricity. The last time I negotiated our electricity contract was in 2013, and Taraloka’s annual electricity bill was eight thousand pounds. When I investigated green electricity suppliers, the estimated annual bill would have been eleven thousand pounds – three thousand pounds more a year. Looking at our finances at that time, we decided to stay with a standard provider. Now I’m looking at our next electricity contract, and hoping that this time we’ll be able to choose a green electricity supplier.
It is interesting, this whole area around money, because it so often does come down to that. At Taraloka we run a dana system, as I’m sure you’ll all know – where retreatants are charged a booking fee, but after that are asked if they would like to donate towards keeping Taraloka running. One of our big values here is accessibility – that women can come to Taraloka even if they don’t have much money. But it also means that Taraloka can’t ‘put up the prices’ if we decide to choose more expensive greener options. So do consider that when you’re here on retreat – it is only the generosity of people like you which means that Taraloka is able to make these green changes and express our collective values of compassion for this whole world.