On Barangaroo, Michael Mobbs and City of Sydney, Origin Energy and our bad, naughty cuts in electricity consumption and time for afternoon naps

13 July 2012 – There’s nothing like a couple of head tenancies signed up, and a major capital investor, to put the smiles on the Lend Lease team at Barangaroo precinct on Sydney’s CBD fringe.

None more so than Anita Mitchell who left a lead sustainability spot at Jones Lang LaSalle to head back to her old stomping ground, lured by the promise of the biggest sustainability gig in town.

For a while Mitchell and the team needed to endure the negative publicity that Lend Lease might be dumbing down its sustainability objectives and wanted to put far more development on the site than was originally intended (such as in the middle of the harbour!).

But now the original promise for Barangaroo to stake yet another Australian claim on the global stage of green innovation is starting to re-emerge.

Mitchell has promised more detail soon but details coming through in media reports this week point to a development that will aim to be carbon neutral albeit with an offset renewable energy power source offsite. It will have harbour cooling, blackwater recycling, 100 per cent fresh air, low tint in the glass and high ceilings.

It will also aim for another major sustainability tick, on the social front, with up to 500 indigenous workers to be employed in the construction.

Interesting is that director of Barangaroo South, Andrew Wilson, told The Australian Financial Review this week that he did not believe it would cost any more than a regular development. “I don’t believe it’s costing any more at all; it’s just very clever design,” he said. Though it’s hard to know what he means by that, unless Lend Lease had designed an unsustainable building in parallel and then compared the costs.

It would be like 20 years ago designing a building with and without lifts or airconditoning and then including the comfort features and trying to prove they cost no more. It was not an argument then. It should not be an argument now.

Of course Wilson has to point to the “no extra cost” argument and it has to be asked for the sake of the people who are still not convinced that a higher quality building is not the same product as a low quality building.

Interestingly there is a prefab component in there as well, according to Wilson. This is now the new rage in development world and it promises a sustainability outcome because of savings. We’re seeing the trend move headlong with Japanese builders in Australia, and many home grown outfits as well. Now it’s emerging in the commercial field.

James Fitzpatrick
One fan of prefabrication is James Fitzpatrick who we interviewed on his designs, past and future. Fitzpatrick says prefab can throw open the doors of the imagination on how tenants might want to fit out their premises, rather than being offered the same old, same old.

It makes sense they want individualised spaces, just like people do in their homes. Fitzpatrick says his research reveals people get really excited when they see they can have “higgledy piggeldy”.

To maximise flexibility, Fitzpatrick advocates his favourite material, timber, even in floors for high rise office buildings. With timber, he points out you can cut holes through the floors to create a dramatic two or three storey void, and at the end of the lease all you need is your chippie to bring it all back to the original format. Rather than the massive expense tenants experience when playing around with concrete.

Fitzpatrick has some exciting ideas about how to have dramatic glass facades that still provide cooling and meet the Section J requirements of the Building Code of Australia.

Fremantle and Mobbs
The City of Sydney might be struggling with Michael Mobbs’ plan for a sustainable Chippendale which it commissioned in 2010 (see our article ) but Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt is intrigued enough to be interviewing Mobbs on Monday night at the New Edition Bookshop at 82 High Street, Fremantle at 6 pm.

Among Mobbs’ keen supporters for the plan are Perth’s Peter Newman who is professor of sustainability at Curtain University and director of its Sustainable Policy Institute.

Time for a siesta, for humanity
Over on the northside of the hemisphere, the Americans sweltering in blistering heat are turning their thoughts to adaptation. Given we’ve reached the 400 parts per million greenhouse gas particles that we were warned never to reach, this is what prudent people are thinking about. The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council focused on adaptation for its latest policy document, and some sustainability advisers are saying this is the new frontier.

In the US the advice from Treehugger advocates a complete change in lifestyle, more akin to that of the Mediterranean and the desert countries. It says: Start our days earlier, in the cool of the morning and work until the middle of the day; in the hottest part of the day we stop working, shut down, and avoid the sun, with businesses closing up; then in the late afternoon we start back up again. We work with the natural cycle of the day, rather than simply, machine-like, continue on oblivious to the rhythm of it all.

See Treehugger for more.

Low Carbon Australia spruiking its wares
Low Carbon Australia has been busy spruiking its wares to help fast track sustainable retrofits with its new chairman, former South Australia premier Mike Rann addressing the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia luncheon in Perth this week, and chief executive officer Meg McDonald urging property owners and developers, architects and consulting engineers at the Retrofitting for Energy Efficiency to get with the program.

Rann, who we profiled in our early days https://thefifthestate.com.au/archives/3257, attended the Rio+20 Earth Summit last month as a member of the Climate Group and said “There is clear affirmation from the world’s business leaders, investors and politicians that they are all working on ways to accelerate the uptake of clean technology”.

McDonald said LCAL had “developed investment partnerships with major financial institutions, utility companies and local councils (and) we’ve been able to generate new financing for energy efficiency worth more than $115 million”.

Partners include the National Australia Bank & Eureka Funds Management, Alleasing, Origin, Macquarie Bank, FlexiGroup, Melbourne City Council and City of Sydney.

We’re not using enough, electricity people!
The Australian Conservation Fund was being kind: “Origin supports clean energy. Or maybe not” it said this week after the energy retailer’s managing director Grant King attacked the renewable energy target and said it was too high pointing to the costs of electricity, and saying it “locked in increasing reliance on more expensive sources of electricity, such as solar panels and wind turbines”.

Pardon us but we thought locking in a reliance on renewable energy was a good thing. One of the reasons the RET target is now a problem is that it was never a percentage but a fixed target and the percentage is now higher because we’re using less electricity. Which, pardon us, we also thought was a good thing.

The ACF said the move was an about face on the company’s previous support for a 20 per cent renewable energy target.

But Origin said no, this was not the case.  “Origin continues to support the RET and we are one of the largest investors in renewable energy in Australia”, an Origin spokeswoman told The Fifth Estate.

“The observation we’ve made publicly a few times, is that the community signed on to a renewable energy target that is 20 per cent by 2020 but what we’ve pointed out is that the forecast demand in 2020 has fallen such that the RET scheme will probably be more like 25-30 per cent.

“There are some consequences to that.”

King’s main point, said the spokeswoman, was that the review of RET which occurs every two years, needed to consider these facts.

“We need to make sure the review is set up with sufficiently wide terms of reference and a properly constituted review panel who can think about the wide range of issues and the true material impacts of the scheme.”

Origin clearly denies it but we think complaining about the size of the RET and the impact of renewable energy programs on electricity costs is pretty well the same thing as saying these targets and outcomes ought to come down down down.

But the commitment to renewable energy and Origin’s great work in trigeneration and cogeneration using gas fuels, its solar energy installation (at least until the decimation of the feed-in tariffs) and its work on energy efficiencies reported here recently, continues unabated, we understand.

Which is all good. But it does point to the conflict that Origin and every other energy company needs to deal with: its support for energy efficiency means people will use less power, which means less revenue; and support for renewable energy might have some detrimental impact on revenue from fossil fuels… such as using less of this.

Origin says that the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of NSW shows that from “1 July 2012, the cost of complying with green schemes will contribute around $316 on average to an indicative regulated electricity customer’s bill in NSW”.

“In percentage terms the costs of complying with these schemes has been the fastest growing proportion of a customer’s bill over the past two years.

“Of the $316–168 is carbon and the remaining $148 is green schemes including the RET. The RET itself is around a $102 contribution.”

The Fifth Estate