City of Sydney passes major sustainability plans

The City of Sydney has passed three major plans to tackle energy efficiency, residential building sustainability and climate change adaptation.

The Energy Efficiency Master Plan, Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan and Climate Change Adaptation Strategy were passed by Sydney City councillors on Monday night.

The Energy Efficiency Master Plan will cost $400 million but promises to save more than $600 million in energy bills by 2030 if fully implemented – though meeting the plan’s lofty goals will be contingent on state and federal government support.

The plan was flagged back in February when a draft version was put on exhibition.

The final version shows that the building sector could save 31 per cent of its energy use, even with the expected 29 per cent increase in floor space.

Key actions in the plan include:

  • improving compliance of building standards and codes
  • increasing minimum performance of new buildings
  • developing a building tune-up program
  • developing a building retrofit program
  • developing new energy efficiency ratings and disclosures
  • providing education and training for planners, property owners, tenants, building managers and assessors
  • safeguarding energy and emissions savings by maintaining existing core programs
  • making it easier to access finance and incentives for improved energy efficiency
  • introducing sector benchmarking, targets and monitoring
  • showing by doing, through best practice for City-owned buildings
  • improving equity by advocating on behalf of low-income households

The approval comes on the back of a COAG agreement to increase Australia’s energy productivity by up to 40 per cent by 2030. It also coincides with a $60,000 grant from the US-based Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance to fund a project to make high rise apartment blocks energy neutral.

“All levels of government need to work together to combat climate change,” Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said. “I’m pleased with the recent decision by the Council of Australian Governments to adopt a national energy productivity plan that reflects many aspects of our own plan to make more efficient use of energy.

“By retrofitting swimming pools, community centres and libraries for optimum energy efficiency, we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions across the City’s buildings by 29 per cent. We now want to see these savings expanded across the entire city.”

Residential apartment sustainability targeted

Key to an energy efficiency city is the apartment market, which houses 70 per cent of the City’s residents, and is soon to climb to 80 per cent.

Also approved on Monday’s council meeting was the Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of apartment living, the draft of which was also covered in The Fifth Estate.

Under the plan, the City plans to advocate for much higher BASIX standards, investigate point-of-sale BASIX certificates, pilot Electronic Building Passports and create a High-Rise Leaders Retrofit Program for existing buildings. Feedback from the community showed huge support for increased energy efficiency as well as better BASIX compliance.

The City is also pushing for a rating system “similar to NABERS” for residential buildings that would “catalyse upgrades and unlock the energy and water-efficiency market for apartment building”. Industry feedback suggested Green Star – Performance could fulfil this role.

“The number of apartments is increasing, but the minimum sustainability targets for new apartment buildings are much lower than for new houses,” Ms Moore said.

“Retrofitting buildings can be costly, so it’s better to include higher sustainability standards at the design stage. Prospective buyers of new apartments should be shown a BASIX ratings certificate, so they can be aware of how well the building performs environmentally.

“We’ve already seen how buildings with better sustainability standards can reduce bills for owners and tenants in the long run, and this is a major selling point for new apartments.”

On the existing building front, the City has received a $300,000 grant from the US Urban Sustainability Directors Network to develop the High Rise Leaders Retrofit Program, which will help to make existing apartment buildings more sustainable.

Community feedback supported the High Rise Leaders Retrofit Program as a useful way to:

  • tackle some of the financial barriers to retrofitting buildings
  • prove the business case for owners to retrofit
  • develop benchmark sustainability data for apartments
  • identify service providers for an expert panel

“The community wants higher environmental standards in new apartment buildings and has asked us to encourage developers to increase their sustainability goals by offering incentives for water-saving devices, solar panels and bicycle parking in new buildings,” Ms Moore said.

“As we’ve seen in the commercial property sector, buildings with improved green standards are more attractive to new owners and residents who demand reduced operating costs and better environmental performance.”

Climate adaptation strategy

Sydney has teamed up with major science groups, as well as the business and property sectors, to create its Climate Adaptation Strategy, which has 39 actions to help deal with climate change issues expected to affect the city, including changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and heatwaves.

“We are frustrated by the lack of political leadership nationally to reduce greenhouse emissions, but we are taking steps to adapt and reduce our vulnerability to climate change,” Ms Moore said.

“Temperatures in Australia have already risen on average by one degree and by 2070, temperatures could have increased by over three degrees. We need to prepare now.

“As our climate changes, the hottest days will become hotter, more frequent and last longer, leading to strain on vital infrastructure, community health and air quality.”

Priority actions in the strategy include:

  • developing a heatwave response plan
  • raising awareness about climate-related events such as air pollution, bushfires and heatwaves
  • developing a sea level rise adaption action plan
  • working with energy companies to assess trigger points and potential vulnerability of the City’s power supply
  • calling for changes to engineering and building standards and codes to address climate change

The property sector has responded warmly, with JLL sustainability director Chris Nunn saying the plan had important information for property investors, owners and tenants.

“It identifies the key climate risks, relevant to property in Sydney, and examines strategies for coping with the predicted consequences such as exposure to flooding, severe storm events and heatwaves,” Mr Nunn said.

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