City of Sydney unveils $60 million green energy deal

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The City of Sydney has unveiled a $60 million renewable energy plan that would see council meet all its electricity needs from wind and solar power. From July next year, renewable electricity will power all City-owned properties, including pools, libraries, playing fields, depots and council buildings – well ahead of the current 2030 target.

With solar panels already installed on dozens of its buildings, the City of Sydney upped the ante earlier this year with the goal to source all of its electricity from solar PV and wind to further slash its greenhouse gas emissions. Having increased its 2030 renewable electricity target from 50% to 100%, the City said it would preference purchasing renewable power from community-generated sources in pursuit of the target.

As Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore announced on Tuesday, the 100% renewable electricity commitment is projected to save up to $500,000 a year over the next 10 years.”Today’s announcement is the biggest standalone renewables commitment for an Australian council,” Moore said.”The science is clear – without urgent, coordinated and global action to reduce emissions in the next decade we face a very high risk of triggering runaway climate change.”

Under an offtake deal inked with Flow Power, the City has committed to buying electricity from the 270 MW Sapphire Wind Farm in northern NSW, the 120 MW Bomen Solar Farm near Wagga Wagga in the south-west of the state, and not-for profit community-owned solar scheme near Nowra on the south-east NSW coast.

The agreement with Flow Power will see three-quarters of the City’s power sourced from wind generation and one-quarter from solar. Flow Power CEO, Matthew van der Linden, said the deal will empower the City to tap into the wholesale energy market and support the system.

“This is the forward-thinking approach to energy that will drive us toward the new energy future,” he said. “We need organisations to lead by example when it comes to their energy strategy. If just 20% of the market followed the City’s lead, it would drive investment in 11 GW of new renewable generation – that’s double the current pipeline of renewable projects.”

The community solar farm project is being developed with Repower Shoalhaven and is expecting to be completed in 2020. With a construction cost of close to $5 million, the coastal solar farm will deliver additional investment to the region and provide local employment opportunities during construction and operation. The project will generate enough energy to power close to 1,000 NSW homes.

Repower Shoalhaven spokesperson, Robert Hayward, said the green power purchase plan will directly support the regional community. “We are proud to be a part of this significant commitment from the City to advance a sustainable decarbonized future,” Hayward said. “Thank you, City of Sydney.”

Initiatives to date

Since 2016, the City has reduced electricity usage by 26% by investing in energy efficiency initiatives, such as installing rooftop solar and LED lights. This has resulted in significant savings for ratepayers. Replacing 6,500 street lights with LEDs, for example, saved ratepayers $800,000 a year.

One of its most notable projects to date is Alexandra Canal Depot in Alexandria, which is powered by 1,600 solar panels and features the state’s first grid-scale Tesla battery, which can store up to 500 kWh of electricity. The City of Sydney and Transgrid were the project partners realizing this application as part of a behind the meter energy storage trial.

On top of that, the City has installed solar panels on more than 30 of its office buildings, pools, libraries and community centres, including Sydney Markets (8,594  panels), Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool (85 panels), Sydney Town Hall (240 panels), Redfern Oval (211 panels), Australia Post building on Cleveland Street (1000+ panels), Surry Hills Library (32 panels), as well as the International Convention Centre Sydney in Darling Harbour, which is home to a community-funded 520 kW solar PV installation. At the Darling Harbour array, the solar panels are owned by members of the general public. 

By mid-2021, the City plans to have more than 7,800 solar panels generating power for its buildings. It has also partnered with Ausgrid to fast-track the upgrade of 9,500 utility-owned street lights to LED, which will save around $1 million in annual maintenance and energy costs. The City calculates that its strong economic position and the money saved by investing in energy efficiency will allows it to act responsibly by committing to 100% renewable energy.

“This new commitment will see the City’s operations cut emissions by around 20,000 tonnes a year – equivalent to the power consumption of 8,000 local households,” Mayor Moore said on Tuesday, adding that the City is now on track to achieve its commitment to reduce emissions by 70% six years ahead of its 2030 deadline.

“Successive Australian Governments have shamefully presided over a climate disaster, and now we are at a critical juncture. We can act here in Sydney, but we desperately need the Australian Government to reintroduce a price on carbon to meet our Paris emissions reduction targets, and to establish a Just Transition Authority to ensure Australians employed in fossil fuel industries find appropriate alternate employment,” he added.

While the City of Sydney was the first local government in Australia to achieve carbon neutral certification in 2011, Melbourne was the first Australian capital to become powered by 100% renewable energy. Melbourne’s achievement came after 14 members of the city’s leading universities, cultural institutions, corporations and councils combined their purchasing power to support the construction of the 80 MW wind farm at Crowlands, near Ararat, with a long-term PPA inked with Pacific Hydro for 88 GWh of electricity per year. As energy from the wind farm began flowing into the grid mid January, the City of Melbourne announced it had made the switch to 100% renewables.