John Preston

Trigeneration: When boondoggles don’t help

trigeneration
Image: WIkimedia Commons

Conventional wisdom is that if something is not part of your core business, you should not be doing it.

At Sydney Town Hall, if it’s wisdom it’s not conventional, and if it’s conventional it’s not wisdom.

No better example of this is the planned foray into trigeneration. This is a boondoggle par excellence. I did not get a lot of time at the Town Hall meeting last week when I told them that they just keep coming up with new ways to lose taxpayers money.

What is trigeneration?

Let’s make a long story short.

Trigeneration is electricity generation technology that is usually powered by natural gas and uses the other outputs such as heat and chilled water for other purposes like heating or cooling. It’s not a bad technology, and I am not against it, but like everything else, it’s got its place.

Its place is not at Town Hall.

It’s great in some new buildings (preferably very large ones) and large industrial plants. Retrofitting it into 40-year-old Town Hall House is the dumbest idea on the face of the planet.

Is it good for the environment?

Well in the case of Town Hall, they will be using the electricity grid as their redundancy, so they will be burning gas, and the coal-fired grid will be generating as usual because you cannot shut the grid down, so there is a reasonable prospect it will actually increase emissions!

The high point of voodoo environmentalism, parked on top of Town Hall house in its own specially built housing like Dr Evil’s secret underground lair.

One thing it has certainly produced a lot of is gigs for consultants. That’s where the voodoo economics come to Town. When consultants peddle effluvia, Town Hall sits there like toilet seats with their lids up.

Part of this masterful plan was to sell chilled water to the Queen Victoria Building. No one thought to wander across the road and ask QVB if they wanted it until recently. When a Councillor asked the question, someone finally knocked on the door and said “no thanks”.

The cold-water salesman went home dejected.

But that did not stop Council from pushing on. The Council loves nothing more than a stray dog or an economic orphan. Kitchen table wisdom tells you that this exercise is now at the point where all rational individuals would declare this exercise dead.

When you have this many consultants working for you, never say die.

Many of the assumptions have been on optimistic assertions of external factors. If network charges did this, if someone wants our chilled water did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, etc etc maybe this would work.

It won’t on this occasion.

Retrofitting this technology into a building is like renovating that bathroom in your Federation house. It’s a pain in the neck and will cost a lot more than you originally thought. That’s the kitchen table truth the consultant won’t tell you. He also won’t tell you the coal-fired grid will keep burning at the same rate because it has to. So emissions will probably be no better for it, Taxpayers will be $13 million dollars worse off.

So what’s the solution to lowering emissions?

Well, when everyone else wants to stop people using something, they raise the price. That’s what has been happening with electricity. Its use has been falling for years now quite considerably as the price has risen, taking emissions with it.

It’s also a distraction Town Hall doesn’t need. The competitive position of the city is slipping and places like Singapore, Hong Kong and (God forbid) Melbourne are pulling away.

We have to focus and get back in the game.

Boondoggles don’t help.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Clover Moore on powering the City of Sydney – consult, commit and do - Openforum

  2. Dave East said:

    Oh noes! Cutting emissions may cost some people some money!! Better not try, just to be safe.

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