State's green building comes at great cost

Mbulaheni Maseda wants to drive an electric car to work, plug it into a solar-powered recharge station, then head off to his office in a building which will set construction standards in sustainable green projects.

Maseda is the project manager for the Department of Environmental Affairs's new green building, which comes with a price tag of R8 billion.

Work on the site started last July, and the department expects to move its Pretoria employees to the new head office in June next year.

Construction is on target, Maseda said yesterday during a visit to the site in Arcadia.

He drove there in one of the department's four Nissan Leaf fully electric vehicles, a first in South Africa which the department is pioneering, and which Maseda enjoys driving to a petrol station and teasing attendants by asking them to "fill it up".

A big solar-tracking plant has been built at the Arcadia site, with an array of photo voltaic panels that move to follow the sun. It is expected to generate 15 kilowatt hours (kWh) a day to power the cars and feed extra power into the grid. The office block will have about 2 000 panels.

Department officials are passionate about the green credentials. The R8bn building cost, which involves two years' construction and 25 years' building management, is high. But officials say the cost is worth it.

"We are no longer talking theory," Maseda said.

The department's chief financial officer, Esther Makau, said they would save on renting offices, which is about R70 million a year including municipal services.

"It's a mind shift. You can't measure it," she said.

"It's what you measure in changing your thinking. It's what you are supposed to be doing for the rest of your life."

Maseda said they had assessed the cost of leasing offices over the past years as part of the feasibility study for the new building.

But overwhelmingly, the department wants the building because it will be a green flagship and set standards for the construction industry.

"For us it's all about the environment," Maseda said. "We must put up a building that reflects who we are."

Queries have been raised about the project by the Auditor-General in his report on the use of consultants by the government.

The building is promoted as a purpose-built environmentally friendly project.

The plan is to use a maximum of 115kWh per square metre per year of energy, and municipal water consumption must be less than 30 percent of that used by a similarly-sized conventional building.

The project is a public/private partnership. The department hired transaction advisers at R45.5m and paid the two losing bidders up to R3m each because of the high costs incurred in compiling the bid.

(The Star)

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