Left to right: Senior program manager, green infrastructure, Peter Coombes; Lord Mayor Clover Moore; chief executive officer Monica Barone

By Tina Perinotto

11 June 2013 – [UPDATE 18 June 2013 ] The City of Sydney has cited pricing, regulatory barriers and last year’s NABERS review for shelving its plans with Cogent Energy to install a trigeneration energy plant at the Green Square precinct. But a trigen system for the Town Hall precinct remains on track.

Key insurmountable issues had little to do with either party, but rather were externalities that made the deal for Green Square economically unfeasible,  Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and chief executive Monica Barone said at a media briefing to announce change of plans on Tuesday morning.

These factors included the rising price of natural gas, the falling price of carbon, regulatory factors related to charges for using the grid, and the NABERS review late last year that will effectively penalise property owners using trigen energy generated offsite, while rewarding those with a trigen plant onsite (even if it’s not turned on).

  • UPDATE: A spokesperson from the NABERS management team said NABERS energy rating rewarded and recognised both the efficiency of the building in one rating and a separate rating that measured the environmental performance gained by using adistrict energy system.  See our article NABERS and district trigen: too many bridges

The City might have added that the energy load factor at Green Square just wasn’t up to scratch. At least not initially.

It’s the same reason that trigen plants sometimes are not turned on: the load factor (or energy demand) needs to be big enough to make the system financially viable when it’s switched on.

A spokeswoman for Cogent said: “Every potential trigeneration site has different factors that will impact the economics of precinct trigeneration, which can include the thermal energy density, and the type of customers and the timing for take-up of energy demand in the area.”

At Green Square the initial load would not warrant the investment but this could eventually change.

The Lord Mayor said the City would go ahead with laying the pipes and other infrastructure for trigen so that the precinct would be prepared for when the plant did became viable.

Ms Moore said trigeneration was still a cost effective way to reduce emissions and plans were still on track to cut greenhouse emissions by 29 per cent by 2016.

Trigen would still be viable at the Town Hall precinct, which would serve the Town Hall, Town Hall House and the adjacent Queen Victoria Building and there was growing number of plants –  at Central Park in Broadway, which had signed up for a $26.5 million Environment Upgrade Agreement for its system – at Coca-Cola Place in North Sydney and  at at Qantas  had also recently installed a large trigen plant. Origin Energy also said it had recently completed a trigen district system at Dandenong south-west of Melbourne.

Ms Moore called on the state and federal government to start supporting renewable energy instead of penalising it.

“It’s a pity to cite regulatory barriers. In contrast, decentralised energy is incentivised in Europe and Asia. Here the opposite is true,” she said.

London, Paris, Berlin and Seoul all had major trigen systems.

“Even China has announced a massive trigen action plan,” Ms Moore said.

However, trigeneration was not the only solution to reducing greenhouse gases. A “portfolio of actions” was needed to achieve energy security and Sydney was well embarked on this, chief executive officer Monica Barone said.

“We’ve signed a contract with General Electric and UGL – that’s $7 million in  value – to change all the street lights with LED streetlights. When this is fully implemented there will be 51 less emissions less from our street lights and we will save $800,000 a year just by changing the streetlights.”

A photo voltaic program worth $4 million was also under way and there was a building efficiency retrofit program signed with Origin Energy for $6.9 million that would save 23 per cent and another $800,000 savings on electricity bills.

The council’s fleet was also going green with 14 of 25 vehicles in total now electric and the balance hybrid and 30 trucks from a total of 80 hybrid.

The City has spent a total of one per cent or about $5 million of its yearly budget to investigate the proposal and on the legal and peer reviewed work to enable it but according to the Lord Mayor this was an investment in the city’s future, not a waste.

Chief development officer, energy and climate change, Allan Jones, introducing the renewable energy masterplan

Ms Moore also announced a draft master plan for a 100 per cent renewable energy harnessing carbon-free solar and wind power for 30 per cent of its energy and gases derived from waste for the balance.

Trigeneration energy production uses gas, which has lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal-fired electricity, and uses waste energy to create hot and cool water for thermal comfort.

However, in recent months use of trigen has come under fire for the fugitive emissions of greenhouse gases detected in production and distribution of natural gas, the potential use of coal seam gas pumped into the gas grid and issues around the design of the City’s trigen system and their compatibility with existing plants in commercial buildings.