Blue Mountains Spiritual Group Goes Solar

solar panels at brahma kumaris leura

Solar panels, positioned on two of the buildings, power all nine buildings on the site.

Story and photos by Linda Moon

Brahma Kumaris are embracing green living and solar energy at their North Leura Retreat Centre in the Blue Mountains. We can all learn from their journey.

Key Points:

In Indian tradition, three coconuts are smashed symbolically on the ground. In a gentler, more official gesture, Sarah Redshaw, Greens Councillor for Blue Mountains City Council, cuts a ribbon to the applause of those present. We are asked to devote 30 seconds of silence to send good wishes to the green initiative.

The new solar system at Brahma Kumaris is worth the fanfare. Energy costs are booming and the environment issue of carbon emissions remains critical.

Greens Councillor, Sarah Redshaw  with Jessica Yuille, Brahma Kumaris Retreat Centre Coordinator, and Charlie Hogg, the National Co-ordinator.

Greens Councillor, Sarah Redshaw (middle) with Jessica Yuille, Retreat Centre Coordinator, and Charlie Hogg, the National Co-ordinator.

Community power

Speaking at the onsite celebratory event at Leura, Charlie Hogg, the National Coordinator, said Brahma Kumaris holds a philosophy of treading lightly on the planet. 

It is a not-for-profit organisation and the switch to renewable energy was fully funded by donations.

The Leura Brahma Kumaris Retreat centre is one of four in Australia. Worldwide Brahma Kumaris has over 4,500 centres across 110 countries. It’s also the largest female-led spiritual organisation in the world. Their goal is spiritual education and helping people take responsibility for their own emotional happiness through meditation, explained Retreat Centre Coordinator, Jessica Yuille.

As they host many large meditation retreats, keeping the power on is vital.

Solar panels also can perform well in the east and west.

Solar panels also can perform well in the east and west.

Panels in the East and West

The new 75 kW solar and 50kW battery storage system services nine buildings. According to Greg Wellham (who looks after the solar project, grounds and maintenance), it’s currently producing more energy than they use.

The solar panels (182 in total) are located on two buildings. Due to limitations of the site, they were unable to position panels in the north. The Hall, for example, has panels covering the east and west roof angles.

Greg said the East / West configuration has meant they only lose six per cent of energy production compared to having panels in the north. The east-facing panels start generating as soon as the sun is up. The western ones capture the late afternoon sun.

How to power at night

As the Centre staff rise around 2 or 3 AM, they start drawing on power before the sun comes up. Battery storage has been crucial.

The 50kW battery storage system is comprised of 10 x 5kW lithium batteries, Greg said. These and the switchboard are located in a storage room. Greg uses an App on his phone to monitor power use and production.

Greg Wellham in the storage room that houses the hefty 50kW battery system (behind him).

Greg Wellham in the storage room that houses the hefty 50kW battery system (behind him).

Power in the mist

What about those trademark misty mountain days?

Even then, the system still creates 7kW of power, Greg said. As a comparison, a hot summer day typically produces 35kW.

When it’s raining, the system can still power up about 3kW, Greg said.

In winter, the underfloor heating is the main suck on the power. Fortunately, now it runs off the new solar electricity.

Brahma Kumaris cottage is now fully powered by the sun.

The cottage is the focus of meditation retreats 

More green practices

Jessica described several other green initiatives at the Centre. These include recycling everything they can, composting and converting all the lighting to LED.

They’ve also changed gas appliances, including air-conditioning, to electric ones. The hot water is powered by solar and heat pumps. This means all appliances are now electrified and running off the new solar system.

Caring for the land means the endangered Giant Dragonfly, Blue Mountains Skink and Mountain Pygmy Possum have been spotted at the site.

Caring for the land means the endangered Giant Dragonfly, Blue Mountains Skink and Mountain Pygmy Possum have been spotted at the site.

Guardians of the universe

Outside there’s also a lot going on.

The property is located on 50 hectares of mostly natural bushland in Mount Hay Road. It includes a hanging swamp, natural spring and one kilometre of Govetts Creek.

Initiatives to protect the land include removing noxious weeds and planting natives, such as ferns.

A Landcare group supported by Blue Mountains City Council also tends the land monthly. (They’re always looking for volunteers, by the way!)

Visitors can attend regular meditative gardening retreats at the 90-year-old ironstone Cottage, and contribute to weeding and land care while they meditate.

According to principal gardener, Chris McDonald, the site has a huge population of Antechinus (a native mouse).

Other endangered residents include the Giant Dragonfly and Blue Mountains Water Skink. A Mountain Pygmy Possum (which is a critically endangered species) was recently discovered in a sink in the garden, Chris said.

Principal gardener (Chris McDonald) and Jessica Yuille (Retreat Centre Coordinator) with visitors: Venerable Korvida and Venerable Mudhita.

Principal gardener (Chris McDonald) and Jessica Yuille (Retreat Centre Coordinator) with visitors: Venerable Korvida and Venerable Mudhita.

A kind, sustainable food garden

Living with so much native wildlife around creates challenges for growing food.

Two years ago, Chris and his helper, Russ, established a permaculture food garden. Choosing a sunny, north-facing site near the kitchen has made it accessible to those preparing food. It’s also closer for watering and chores. “You’ve got to think about these practicalities,” Chris said.

The kitchen garden supplies food to those who live onsite. Their January crops include turmeric, corn, rocket, tomatoes, pumpkin, greens, beans, herbs and berries. There’s also 11 varieties of fruit trees and comfrey, which is used for composting.

Chris and Russ at brahma kumaris garden

Chris and Russ. Building the enclosure took four months worth of weekends, but has been worth it.

No chemicals or pesticides are used in the garden. To minimise pest attacks the plants are protected within a huge covered structure and the beds are raised.

Flowers, like allysum, are grown to attract beneficial insects. Variety supports the garden, Chris said.

When they’re gardening, they sometimes do silent moving meditations, Russ reveals. “Nature’s really sensitive to vibration.”

giant rhubarb

Giant rhubarb in the kitchen garden: a healthy product of positive vibrations and permaculture principles.

Take Action:

  • Come to the upcoming Planetary Health Day at the Katoomba Planetary Health Precinct & Parklands.
  • Get free advice from local solar company representatives on the day.
  • Recycle, avoid waste and grow your own food.

Share this article:

This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

Planetary Health Initiative partners

More from around the region

The Story of Asset Management: Coming up at the Planetary Health Precinct 10am-12noon Tuesday 23 April

As we work at recovering from yet another extreme weather event the question many of us are asking is how do we ensure fit-for-purpose infrastructure in a world that is changing in many ways? This month it is 40 years since Dr Penny Burns developed the engineering-economics hybrid we now know as Asset Management. From 1994 to 2014 her newsletter ‘Strategic Asset Management’ became a beacon in the industry. In 2016 Penny set up Talking Infrastructure with Jeff Roorda, now Director of Infrastructure & Project Delivery Service at @bluemountainscitycouncil to look to the future of Asset Management. Join them for a discussion at the Planetary Health Precinct. They`ll discuss the need for a shift from grey to blue and green assets and address the critical question: we can afford to buy it, but can we afford to keep it?

Join us for this very important discussion. This event is free but bookings essential (link in profile):

#infrastructure #greeninfrastructure #assetmanagement #pennyburns #disasterriskreduction #disasterrecovery #fitforthefutureinfrastructure #newparadigms #planetaryhealth #symbiocene

The Rural Clinical School of the The University of Notre Dame in Lithgow, together with the Blue Mountains Planetary Health Initiative, have been introducing first year medical students to rural medicine, Aboriginal Health and Planetary Health. When given hands-on experience in using a thermal imaging camera they were very surprised to see the difference between the temperature of the deep shade under a tree and the temperature of pavers in full sun was 30C!
Read more in Lithgow Area Local News (link in profile):

#firstyearmedical #futuredoctors #ruralhealth #aboriginalhealth #planetaryhealth #heatwaves
#heatislandeffect #thermalimaging

This week we welcome guest writer Camille Walsh with an inspiring story about Sal Isaksen and how she`s helping shift our attitude to one of the most polluting industries in the world: fashion. Read more in Katoomba Area Local News (link in profile):
#fashion #prelovedfashion #culturalshift #katoomba #bluemountains #sustainablefashion #upcycling #planetaryhealth #togetherwecan #abetterway

Mel Michael is the newish owner of the Blackheath Vegie Patch. She spoke to Hamish Dunlop about making lemonade from local lemons, a philosophy of abundance, and how businesses can help make communities more resilient. Read more in Blackheath Area Local News (link in profile):
#blackheath #bluemountains #vegies #veggies #localbusinesses #supportlocal #community #planetaryhealth #resilience #togetherwecan #collaboration #seedlings #supportinglocalgrowers

Join us for an evening of art, poetry and sushi in the Planetary Health exhibition space at 33-39 Acacia St Katoomba (former Katoomba Golf Clubhouse, lower level) this Thursday 11 April at 6pm. The event is free but bookings essential at Time of Fire Performance by Harry Laing (link in profile)

Artworks by Scott Marr, Leanne Tobin, Wendy Tsai, Saskia Everingham and others ...

#poetry #art #sushi #katoomba #bluemountains #planetaryhealth #katoomba #community

Do you baulk at killing garden pests? Chris McDonald, Principal Gardener at the Brahma Kumaris Retreat Centre, Leura, shares tips for keeping the pests at bay without killing anything, harming the environment or ourselves. Read more in Katoomba Area Local News (link in profile):

@brahmakumaris @bk_leura #ecofriendlypestcontrol #nokillgardening #planetaryhealth #ecosystemhealth #humanhealth #integratedpestmanagement #pestcontrol

Sun Valley residents, the Sidarous family, have opened their home and hearts to many creatures great and small, who might otherwise have struggled to find appropriate and loving care. Read more in Springwood Area Local News (link in profile):

#animalrescue #safehaven #sanctuary #sunvalley #wearenature #planetaryhealth #bluemountains #rspcakatoomba #rspca #togetherwecan

When we go through long periods of rain, cloud or bushfire smoke, solar panels struggle to provide all the power we need. For the last 25 years Lithgow Hospital hasn`t just relied on its many solar panels. When the hospital was built pipes were drilled to a depth of 110m under the hospital`s car park to provide geothermal ground source heat pump heating and cooling for the hospital! Our visiting Belgian doctor Louis Wauters discusses how Lithgow has been leading the way with a technology that is widely accepted in Europe and has great potential for the future.
@nswreconstructionauthority @wentworthhealthcare @nepeanbluemountains
#geothermal #geothermalenergy #groundsourceheatpumps #lithgow #lithgowhospital #planetaryhealth

Put bushfire and a poet together and you get an electrifying, rare, poetic insight into the drama of fire and its aftermath. At 6pm on Thursday 11 April we`re thrilled to be hosting `Time of Fire`: our first poetry performance in the Blue Mountains Planetary Health Initiative exhibition space by Southern Highlands poet Harry Laing. Harry’s performance is not only a dramatic account of the ferocity of the fire, but also a witnessing of the regenerative power of the forest and the depth of connection in the Braidwood Community and people’s care for each other at such a threatening time. It`s an opportunity to connect across the country about how to go forward living in a `time of fire`. The event is free but booking essential (link in profile):

#poetrylovers #communicatingcomplexemotions #communicatingcomplexity #communicating #creativetransformation #bushfire #timeoffire #braidwood #southernhighlands #bluemountains #planetaryhealth #katoomba #connection #resilience #regeneration

About Linda Moon

Linda Moon has lived in the upper Blue Mountains since childhood and is a freelance writer for Australian media. A qualified naturopath, permaculture designer, mother and former student of social work, her passion is building local community, gardening, mental, emotional, social, housing and environmental health – all of which are linked!

You might also like:

building a sustainable home in the blue mountains

How Ken and Carol Built a Sustainable Home in the Blue Mountains

Ken and Carol’s sustainable home in Leura offers insights into eco-friendly building design we can all take inspiration from.


Enjoyed this article? Please help spread the word :)