Tumut Shire Council will spend over a million dollars on an air conditioning and heating system for its Riverina Highlands Building, and says it can pay for theequipment in future savings on its electricity bill.
In its first big spend of the new council term, councillors voted to borrow just under $1.2m for a geo-exchange system to cool and heat the building, as well as to carry out energy efficiency lighting upgrades and to install a 30 kilowatt solar power system.
Councillors made the decision at an extraordinary meeting last week to take out a low interest loan from Low Carbon Australia to fund the project.
The interest rate will be 6 per cent, about two per cent lower than what the council could otherwise achieve, according to financial director Allan Tonkin.
Council has previously applied for a grant to cover half the cost of the project from the federal government, but failed.
The council is hoping to save about $140,000 a year in electricity costs, through efficiencies and energy saving strategies, including the solar power system, to pay back the loan over the next eight years.
Mr Tonkin and council’s environmental officer Jo Spicer, as well as Emma Spinks, a consultant with energy specialists CDE Energy, said council could save money in the long run by ditching the ageing air conditioning and heating system that was presently costing $135,000 a year to run, and was in danger of complete failure.
Mr Tonkin said there were no replacement parts for the 40 year old plant that currently controls the temperature in the building.
“If it (the air conditioning) fails the Riverina Highlands Building will be almost uninhabitable,” Mr Tonkin said.
“There are no windows that can be opened and a lot of glass.”
Council was obligated to keep its other tenants of the building, which include Forests NSW and the Rural Fire Service, in a “comfortable climate”, or risk breaching its agreement.
The existing reverse cycle air conditioner was struggling to provide a workable environment, with individual fans and portable heaters littered throughout the building, adding to already rising electricity costs, Mr Tonkin said.
The plant is expensive to operate and prices are only going to get higher, with council was facing the prospect of spending somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 each year on electricity.
The new ground source system, which will involve drilling a number of bores in the council carpark behind KFC, would cost an estimated $1.054m.
The geo-exchange system will be cheaper in the long run than a conventional system, according to consultant Emma Spinks, who addressed the council last week.
A geo-exchange system uses the ground as its heat exchanger, rather than the air, and the system will be dictated by soil temperature. Below 1.5m soil depth, the temperature is stable and fluctuates only by a small amount each year.
Tumut Shire Councillor Geoff Pritchard has been somewhat sceptical of the technology, arguing the two pipes transferring the hot and cold water into, and then out of, the ground were “too close together.”
“I don’t see how there is not a transfer of temperature between the pipes,” Cr Pritchard said. “How can that be efficient.”
But Ms Spinks assured Cr Pritchard the technology was proven, and used in building such as the Jindabyne Tourist Information Centre.
She said a ground source system was a better fit for Tumut than a conventional reverse cycle air conditioner, given the variances in air temperature in this region.
Aside from the new heating and cooling system, the council will also install a 30KW solar PV panel system on its roof, at a cost of somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000.
Over $100,000 will be spent on a lighting upgrades, replacing fluorescent fixtures with more energy efficient T5 lamps, and low voltage halogen downlighting will be replaced with LED lights.
The energy efficiency measures, as well as the recommendation for a new heating and cooling system, arose from an energy audit undertaken by the council, which has already achieved energy savings of about eight per cent.