A trigeneration plant

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Eighty per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of electricity, primarily by coal-fired power stations in the Hunter Valley.

More than two-thirds of that power is wasted in transmission from the distant coal-fired generators.

The damning statistics come in light of the City of Sydney Council’s revised plans for the rollout of the highly-anticipated trigeneration network.

City of Sydney CEO Monica Barone said the restrictive electricity network regulations and rule changes removing incentives for the development of trigeneration precincts had undermined the trigeneration project. She also pointed to tough gas distribution regulation, and the gradual take-up rates for energy from trigeneration as Green Square developed.

“The City will revisit trigen in Green Square once the regulatory environment makes it more attractive for large-scale precincts,” she said.

The City argues that local generation of power reduces the need for capital expenditure by $1.5 billion. They believe a price for locally generating power that reflects this would make trigeneration in Green Square more commercially viable.

The City’s Master Plan recognises that trigeneration and cogeneration could produce up to 477 megawatts of local power, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 24 to 32 per cent.

Over the last five years, NSW electricity networks have spent an estimated $17.4 billion expanding infrastructure to continue this model, passing the rising costs onto consumers.

While the energy efficient generators will still be installed in the Council’s own buildings, plans to put them in privately-owned buildings in the Green Square development have been deferred until the system becomes commercially viable.

Balmain MP Jamie Parker said he was fully supportive of the City of Sydney’s efforts to reduce their carbon emissions.

“Governments at all levels should be doing everything they can to facilitate the transition from coal-fired power,” he said.

Mr Parker has initiated a project that avoids regulatory hurdles by allowing the community to invest in photo-voltaic panels that supply local energy-intensive businesses.

Rather than placing panels on their own houses and receiving limited returns from the grid, residents would be given the opportunity to invest in panels that are placed on the roofs of power-sucking businesses.

The solar energy would then then sold to the business at a much higher retail rate, giving the investor a return of around 7 per cent.

Mr Parker said the scheme is only viable as a community project, because if it were run like a business CEOs would be demanding exorbitant salaries.

“Our vision is to build a large group of small-scale local ‘shareholders’ who will invest in a solar installation located within the Balmain electorate,” he said.

“Ideally, we’d like to see this rolled out as a blueprint for community-owned and operated renewable energy in communities across NSW.”

The wider regulatory system is becoming increasingly hostile to local generation. One of the first acts of the O’Farrell Government was to phase out the Solar Bonus Scheme. This popular program reimbursed homeowners with solar panels up to 60 cents for every kilowatt-hour they put back into the grid.

The State Government closed the scheme to new applicants in June last year, slating 2016 for its eventual termination and removed an incentive for homeowners to invest in rooftop photo-voltaic panels, hobbling the local industry.

In March 2012, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) recommended that a “fair and reasonable value for this feed-in tariff is in the range of 5.2 to 10.3 cents per kilowatt hour”, but left compliance voluntary.

A recent submission by the Clean Energy Council to the annual IPART review of feed-in tariffs stated that five of 14 retailers in NSW offer a rate at, or lower, than the lowest range of the IPART recommendation and more than half offer no payment at all.