Cooking with gas

Cooking with gas

Orbost is finally cooking with gas with the latest in gas compression technology thanks to the completion of the ‘daughter station’ in Clarke Street.

Natural gas connectivity was initially expected to be available for Orbost residents and businesses during the third quarter of last year, however, concerns raised by residents regarding issues such as noise, lighting, smell, traffic, parking, cultural and visual aspects led to a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hearing that delayed construction.

It was first announced in early 2016 that Orbost would be one of 11 Victorian towns to be connected to natural gas as part of the State Government’s Victorian Regional Gas Energy Program.

Brookfield was contracted by the government to deliver the project, which would see gas distribution via a ‘virtual pipeline’ with gas supplied from a high-pressure natural gas transmission pipeline to a ‘mother station’ where it is further compressed and held in storage before being delivered to ‘daughter stations’ in transportable high-pressure cylinders.

It is from there that natural gas is supplied on demand into the network.

In its simplest explanation, the virtual pipeline (trucks) replace transmission pipelines.

The process leading up to permit granting for the construction of the daughter station proposed for 10-12 Clarke Street, the site of a former petrol station nestled between the Orbost Exhibition Centre and East Gippsland Water, began in December 2016. At that time construction was expected to commence during the third quarter of 2017.

Concerns began to rumble through the community and in April 2017 a public meeting was called by Clarke Street resident, Paulene Hambling, to discuss what some community members believed was an unsuitable site, attracting around 40 residents.

The at times hostile meeting was addressed by Enwave Energy (a subsidiary of Brookfield Infrastructure) project director, Todd Henderson, and operations manager, Mark Yates, with issues raised including the size, noise, zoning, truck frequency, safety, network rollout and approach, ecology and cultural heritage.

The meeting was told that all permits had been granted for network construction, and that ecological and cultural heritage assessments were complete for both network route and daughter station site.

Enwave undertook a substantive property search during 2015 and 2016 with the numerous township fringe property owners approached not interested in selling.

The golf club, which was deemed by many to be more appropriate than the final site, was not suggested until proceedings were well advanced and finance became an issue.

Eligible under planning guidelines to be in a residential area, Clarke Street is zoned commercial one on both sides.

Residents were advised the daughter station posed less risk and traffic than a petrol station. Enwave said it was “happy to work with residents / council on frontage aesthetics”.

An East Gippsland Shire Council planning consultation meeting held in Orbost on May 30 heard that B-double trucks were not permitted to use Clarke Street and that no application had been lodged by Brookfield.

For Bdoubles to use the road it would need to be reclassified.

At its August 1 meeting, council granted a permit for the daughter station to go ahead, despite ongoing public opposition. Twenty-seven objections were submitted along with a petition with 261 signatures.

All concerns were considered before the permit was granted. Among the conditions agreed upon between the council and Enwave were that no car parking spaces would be lost, there would be comprehensive revegetation and landscaping and action would be taken to minimise the impact of noise and lighting on neighbouring properties.

However, sections of the community were dismayed at council’s decision to grant the permit, launching a crowd funding campaign to assist with taking the fight to stop the construction of the daughter station to VCAT, putting the project on hold as a tribunal decision was awaited.

The case was considered a complex one by VCAT. The hearing was held in March this year with the decision, released in April, that the project could go ahead, subject to conditions that addressed issues that included access, fencing, landscaping, drainage, construction management, earthworks, lighting and noise.

The Enwave construction crew moved onto the site at 10-12 Clarke Street in July, from which time operations manager, Mark Yates, said the process was fairly uneventful.

With the concerns of the community addressed, Mr Yates said the process was “reasonably straightforward”.

“Once the issues raised by residents at the public meetings were sent to VCAT and the residents were reasonably happy with the results, the process was pretty much smooth sailing,” he said.

“We’ve had no major issues since construction began.”

Mr Yates said 830 homes now have the option to connect to natural gas with around 20 applications already received since connections commenced last month.

“We’re receiving one or two applications a week now,” he said.

“It’s proving a strong and steady process.”

He said connection applications could expect to increase closer to winter.

“That’s when people start to think they’d like the gas connection for heating during winter,” he said.

In fact it was winter heating that made the decision to connect to natural gas an easy one for Danny and Norma Leatham, who were the first Orbost residents to hook up to the system.

“Our wood heater had packed up, so we got a gas heater,” Mr Leatham said.

“We operated it on bottle gas with the expectation that the connection to natural gas would be made available by Christmas last year. We had to use the bottle gas longer than we had hoped, but now we’ve got the natural gas connected it’s terrific.

“We’ve got a gas stove top, with an electric oven (that’s what the wife likes). Our hot water is still electric, but if something ever happens to that we’ll consider getting a gas heater.”

Mr Leatham said he felt there was a difference between the heat of the bottle gas and the natural.

“It’s a different flame and I think a nicer heat,” he said.

He was also impressed with the way the whole process unfolded.

“It was all done very well and efficiently. We certainly can’t complain,” he said.

At this point no commercial facilities have connected, but Mr Yates said it is still early days.

While much of Orbost’s main town now has the option to connect, pockets that were not included in the initial design will have the option for extension down the track.

“Generally a commitment of 60 per cent of residents in a street to connect within a certain period could see extensions of the service, following relevant feasibility studies and so on,” Mr Yates said.

“I understand there are a couple of estate developments in the future for Orbost, and extension through to them will also be an option.”

Manager of the site during construction, Daryl Pratt, said the process from his point of view was a “pleasurable one”.

“We had great cooperation and support from the community, we met some nice people and made some good friends over the months,” he said.

“It was a good experience.

“The site has come up lovely. We did some nice landscaping and it looks good.”

PICTURED: First to be connected to Orbost’s new natural gas supply via the daughter station in Clarke Street were Danny and Norma Leatham, and they couldn’t be happier with the service.


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