The City of Newcastle is already moving beyond a coal-fired future.

It’s implemented a range of renewable energy, energy efficiency and new technology initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint and reliance on fossil-fuel generated electricity.

It’s a member of the Cities Power Partnership, a Climate Council program launched last year, which involves cities and towns pledging key actions to reduce their climate impact.

The city also has a 30 per cent renewable energy target under its 2020 Carbon and Water Management Action Plan.

To meet this target, solar PV has been installed on at least eight council buildings, including an art gallery, museum, works depot and libraries.

There’s also a 5 megawatt solar farm being built at the Summerhill waste management facility. The solar farm project has been financed with the assistance of a $6.5 million loan from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The output from the solar farm will be fed into the existing Ausgrid network and offset council’s energy use. It’s also expected to substantially reduce the annual $4 million council electricity bill – a major plus, as the bill had doubled within just two years.

Summerhill already has other low-carbon energy generating technology operating, including a 2.2 megawatt landfill gas generator and a wind turbine.

The council also wants to cut overall electricity usage by 30 per cent by 2020. Projects include LED lighting and encouraging low-carbon travel such as cycling and electric vehicles by installing charging infrastructure.

Council is also looking to reduce the waste to landfill footprint, with a new organics recycling facility among the projects allocated funding in last month’s distinctly green-tinged council budget.

Which green initiatives received budget funding

The council’s $297 million budget allocates $12.35 million for the new waste management facility at Summerhill that is expected to divert thousands of tonnes of waste from landfill and save ratepayers an estimated $5.5 million in state landfill levies over the next six years.

A further $6 million has been allocated for a new resource recovery centre which allow the city to generate new income from the sale of organic and other recycled materials.

Overall, a full 40 per cent of the $81 million works budget has been committed to environmental initiatives around waste, improvements to recreational parks and coastal revitalisation.

City of Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes says the budget “offers significant investment in major sustainability projects, while still delivering essential projects and services that the community expects from local government.”

Keeping the taps flowing for a growing city

As Newcastle grows, so does the demands on the water supplied by the regional water authority, Hunter Water.

One of the issues is the growing number of multi-residential developments, where metering influences how much water residents use.

A spokesperson for Hunter Water told The Fifth Estate that it’s currently undertaking a proactive review of its approach to individual metering for apartments so both the organisation and its customers can realise the benefits of water efficiency.

It is currently possible for customers to apply for individual meters to be installed on separate apartments and units, providing the location of the meter is suitable.

“While it is not mandatory for multi-dwelling residential properties to be individually metered, Hunter Water recognises the value and importance it could provide in encouraging water efficient behaviours with our customers,” the spokesperson says.

Improving water efficiency is Hunter Water’s top priority for future proofing its supply.

In early 2018 it launched a Love Water conservation campaign to encourage the community to value the resource.

“By making simple changes at home such as reducing showers to four minutes, using a trigger nozzle on hoses and fixing leaks, we can collectively make a big difference to reduce our water consumption,” the spokesperson says.

“There are promising signs our customers are contributing to a reduction in the amount of water being consumed across the region since the launch of Love Water.”

Early modelling indicates consumers are using around 4 per cent less water equating to the average yearly consumption of 7000 households.

It has also starting improving its own infrastructure, with leakage reduced by nearly 20 per cent over the Hunter Water network within the past two years.

This was achieved by using new technologies including flow metres to understand where water is leaking, and implementing smart software to identify hidden leaks and help prioritise leak detection work.

Looking ahead at the future of Newcastle and its water supplies, the organisation expects that given predicted population growth and water usage patterns, a new water supply will be necessary by 2036.

“Rather than simply building large scale, expensive infrastructure now, Hunter Water aims to defer the time between now and when we would need to make decisions on our long-term water future,” the spokesperson said.

“By learning with our community to reduce water usage and reducing losses from our system, we will have an opportunity to consider new technologies and other innovative solutions that could help us save water, and possibly delay the need for a new water source indefinitely.”

The state government is also playing a role in water security

The NSW government’s water security blueprint for the region, the Lower Hunter Water Plan, also has a range of measures to shore up supply for when times are dry.

This includes water conservation, water sharing arrangements, increased recycling initiatives and stormwater harvesting.

As part of this plan, Hunter Water is progressing approvals for a temporary desalination plant at Belmont as an “‘insurance policy” in the event of a catastrophic drought in the Hunter region.

However, the spokesperson says actually building such a plant would only occur after “every other possible water saving measure” had been implemented, including increased water recycling, stormwater harvesting and stringent water restrictions.

The challenge of embedding sustainability in an all-new town

Recycled water is already being used in at least one Hunter location, the Huntlee community. In development by LWP Property Group, it aims to be a showcase for sustainable communities.

Believed to be the first new town founded in New South Wales within recent decades, it is masterplanned to be home for around 20,000 residents in 7500 homes. Plans also include a town centre with retail, services and education.

As well as substantial greenspace, Huntlee will have a whole-town recycled water supply that’s connected to every dwelling for non-potable uses.

An independent water utility, Huntlee Water, was launched to operate the system. It is already supplying homes completed over the past 18 months.

A low-carbon electricity supply was also planned for the town. Brookfield Energy, through its subsidiary Flow Systems, undertook a study supported with $442,000 from ARENA into the feasibility of the town operating entirely off-grid and powered by renewable energy in conjunction with embedded microgrid technology.

However, according to LWP spokesman Simon Thompson, due to policy uncertainty at the state and federal level around the appropriate enabling regulatory framework, the concept was unable to proceed to reality.

It is not off the table forever though, he says. The town is still in its early stages of the 25-year development plan, with around 400 occupied homes.

Flow is still exploring the feasibility of making a specific part of the town effectively energy-independent, Thompson says.

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