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City council's solar plan would lock in "loss-making machine"

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An Adelaide City Council plan to install solar panels on the roof of the Adelaide Aquatic Centre would be a great idea – if the roof wasn’t a key source of the centre’s financial woes, says Anne Moran.

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The council has submitted an advance tender notice to commission one megawatt of solar power – equivalent to the amount required to  power about 1000 houses – on some of its major electricity-consuming buildings.

They include the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, Adelaide Town Hall and three of the council’s UPark cark parking buildings.

But former Aquatic Centre Authority member and area councillor Moran told InDaily this morning the swimming centre was a “loss-making machine”, losing about $1 million each year, and that some of its financial difficulties could be attributed to its roof.

Moran said water filtration was exceptionally expensive at the undercover swimming and leisure facility because the water was not exposed to sunlight.

She said a plausible solution to the centre’s financial woes was to take the roof off altogether – an unlikely prospect if the council installs a brand new solar array on it.

“The aquatic centre is a burden that we cannot sustain … it’s losing, in real terms, a million dollars a year,” she said.

“All the cost of the aquatic centre is because it has a roof on. This preserves the roof forever.”

However, the council’s director of growth, Ian Hill, told InDaily there was a compelling business case for installing the solar panels.

“The Adelaide Aquatic Centre is one of our largest electricity-consuming sites so the business case for installing solar panels on this site is very strong and the return on investment on the panels will happen within a short time-frame,” Hill said.

“We will be taking a flexible design approach to the installation of the panels to ensure their longevity.

“There are no council-endorsed plans to remove the roof of the centre.”

The business case, published in council papers in November last year, estimates the cost of installing the system on the Aquatic Centre roof to be $572,448 – a cost that would be paid back in energy cost savings over seven-and-a-half years.

The total combined cost of the solar panels to be installed on the Aquatic Centre, Town Hall and two council UParks (Topham Mall UPark was added to the project brief after the papers were published) was $1.75 million – also to be made back in electricity cost savings in about seven-and-a-half years.

Moran conceded that electricity was a major cost for aquatic centre and that solar panels would reduce it.

“On the surface, it’s great isn’t it – solar panels,” she said.

“It’s got a great big roof facing north. All I regret is it completely usurps the discussion (about removing the roof).”

She added that the council had tried in previous years to hand the Adelaide Aquatic Centre over to a private operator, with no success.

“A private operator won’t take it over … they all see the nightmare of the costs of it.”

Fellow area councillor Natasha Malani said taking the roof off would affect how the centre manages heating and cooling and “we have no idea how much that would cost”.

“The reason we’re going our to expressions of interest (in the tender process) is to get evidence from experts … let’s have a conversation based on facts and data, rather than ‘off the top of the head’ ideas,” she said.

She added that using more solar power would contribute to achieving the council’s target of being carbon neutral in its operations by 2020 – and set an example for the broader target of making the CBD and North Adelaide carbon neutral by 2025.

“We must lead the way in our own operations if we expect the city to follow us,” she said.

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