GPT sustainability manager, office and industrial, Bruce Precious

28 September 2010 – Without the Federal Government’s Green Building Fund sustainability refits on existing buildings would have been few and far between over the past couple of credit-tight years, three recipients of the funds – GPT, Stockland and ISPT- told delegates at the AIRAH conference in Melbourne on 16-17 September.

And with suggestions by government insiders at the conference that the fund is likely to morph into tax incentives under the Gillard government, feedback on the success of the Green Building Fund was timely.

All three of these major property companies said they would not have been able to go ahead with major refits without the government’s funding. They praised the efficiency of the scheme and its structure, which meant that payments were made in instalments – 20 per cent on approval, 60 per cent on completion if energy efficiency and other reports were satisfactory, and 20 per cent on completion of a NABERS assessment.

Bruce Precious, sustainability manager office and industrial with GPT, said the certainty of the funding meant property owners could fast-track upgrades that had been put on hold because of the global financial crisis.

“With 580 George Street, we were about to do that project when the GFC hit – government funding helped make it happen,” Mr Precious said. “One thing I discovered at that time was that accountants won’t predict the future. We needed to know if GPT was likely to have the money to do these projects in the future and that’s not something they would tell us.

“The Green Building Fund did give us some certainty – there were frequent rounds [six altogether] and the team was very helpful.”

And because the outcomes were very NABERS-focused the funding program has built new capability into a significant amount of Australia’s existing office stock.

“We’ve got three major office owners here who all did large projects and this created many green jobs across so many different occupations. The teams were big and this meant new green skills were acquired.”

GPT is aiming for a 4.5 NABERS Star weighted average across its property portfolio of 20 buildings by 2011, without taking into account use of green power. The properties range from brand new through to the 40 year old Australia Square building in Sydney.

In the iconic MLC building in the Sydney CBD, now 30 years old, GPT undertook a massive energy audit of the entire building, installed smarter chiller controls, replaced halogens with LEDs and overhauled the hot water heating.

“This is an iconic building which had outdated fittings. There were 36 halogens in each lift. By replacing these with LEDs we reduced energy use in the lifts by 85 per cent,” said Mr Precious.

At 530 Collins Street in Melbourne GPT used an energy performance contract with Honeywell to ensure it reached 5 Star NABERS. The project involved installing high efficiency chillers, new cooling towers and a co-generation plant.

“We get a lot of reporting on this building now – Jones Lang Lasalle, GPT and Honeywell all get an email at 6am every morning with detailed analysis of how the building is performing. That means we can get a daily NABERS rating.”

On its 20 year old building at 580 George St in Sydney, GPT also used an energy performance contract with HG Coombs when it did a major refit. The building has a new building management system, new meters and high efficiency chillers.

“HSBC is the primary tenant in this building. Banks are aiming to be carbon neutral and an important part of achieving that is their tenancy. Upgrading buildings is crucial for keeping these types of tenants and this will become increasingly so with mandatory disclosure of energy use in buildings.”

Stockland national environment manager Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson, national environment manager with Stockland, said Stockland had been a recipient of six Green Building Fund grants and was waiting to hear on another submission in round Six – $2.1million in total.

“These grants funded projects that would not otherwise have happened,” Mr Johnson said.

On the Durack Centre in Perth Stockland used a grant to upgrade the airconditioning system, including replacement of the old low load-chiller, tube cleaning systems and lighting systems.

“The building had a major lease expiry in 2009 so this provided the chance to reposition it. We did a tenancy upgrade of the lighting and other fittings in addition to the work done with the Green Building Fund grant,” Mr Johnson said.

The building’s pneumatic control system as well as building management system were replaced and a new controls strategy put in place. This included intelligent sub-metering to monitor and track energy consumption. On completion the building will undergo tuning over a 12 month period.

The total cost of the upgrade was $1.01 million, with $385,000 of this provided by the government funding.

According to Mr Johnson, the upgrade resulted in a carbon emissions reduction of 36kg of CO2 per square metre and energy savings of 650,000 KWh a year.

The increased detail in energy consumption data provided by sub-metering has allowed Stockland to fine tune the building’s usage patterns.

“Sub-metering has shown us a lot of useful information about operational aspects. By looking at the sub-metering results, for example, we can delay the starting of the plant because there is free cooling time early in the morning. Sometimes after hours services are being provided unnecessarily. We didn’t have this view of the building before,” said Mr Johnson

“The legacy of the Green Building Fund will be the increase in fine tuning of buildings because we have seen the importance of this with these projects.”

Rob Sviderskas, of property group ISPT, told delegates the Green building Fund had provided money to upgrade one of the group’s large commercial building to a 4.5 Star NABERS rating, where it had previously been less than 1 Star.

“The building had been previously upgraded under a design and construct arrangement and after 12 months operation it barely managed to achieve 1 Star NABERS,” Mr Sviderskas said.

The same team was given another 12 months to improve the building’s performance and got it up to 3 Stars. By then the original team had run out of options so AG Coombs was engaged and a 24-month program put into place.

This involved revisiting the commissioning of all aspects of the building using an independent commissioning agent – a key factor in the final success of a building’s performance as “you can’t take for granted equipment will work as it did at the factory.”

The building is now operating at close to 5 Star NABERS, with energy use so far in the 2010/2011 year far below previous years during the same period.

“We are now targeting 4 Stars NABERS across our whole portfolio and 4.5 Stars for next year. And we are doing this just on building performance and avoiding the expense of green power. We want to achieve performance from straight forward reliable changes to our buildings such as chillers and lighting.”

A spokesperson for the Green Building Fund said the Federal Government would be announcing the fate of the Green Building Fund in the near future, with the likelihood that there would be a transition to tax incentives for green building upgrades instead of grants under the new regime.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au