State governments are getting serious about energy efficiency.

21 August 2013 — While a federal government under Tony Abbott may be quite prepared to renege on Australia’s global commitment to lower greenhouse emissions, his conservative counterparts in NSW and Victoria are grasping the carbon nettle.

Both states have plans to improve their own government building stock – the Victorian program radically so – and the two states are working together to develop policies and build programs, without re-inventing the wheel each time.

On Friday NSW released a program that calls for ambitious 4 star NABERS energy and water ratings on average, for half of the state’s commercial buildings by 2020.

The program builds on existing measures that have already lifted average NABERS ratings for commercial stock from an average of 2.5 stars up to 3 stars, the government claims, and are on track to deliver three-quarters of the energy savings targets in the program by 2020.

See our full report NSW government goes for gold with green building programs

It includes a $170 million investment over the next four years to upgrade NSW Government schools, hospitals and offices in a program developed by the Energy Efficiency Council and Government Property Group.

See our previous story NSW joins the rush to save money

Other measures include:

  • NSW Government partnerships with industry associations to help roll-out these tools and business-case guides across NSW
  • Access to hands-on training for site managers to help them implement and maintain energy efficiency projects in their businesses
  • Increasing the number of energy efficient office leases using a range of methods to maximise value for government, such as green lease schedules and use of Environmental Upgrade Agreements and NABERS ratings

Other key targets are energy efficiencies for households and businesses.

The Energy Efficiency Council, which has worked on government building retrofit schemes in both NSW and Victoria, said the Energy Efficiency Action Plan was good for taxpayers and would also “help families and businesses that are doing it tough”.

Chief executive officer Rob Murray-Leach said NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker was showing “real leadership”.

“She’s not just helping homes and businesses, she’s also getting the NSW Government’s house in order,” he said. “Stopping agencies from wasting energy will save taxpayers millions of dollars and lower the cost of energy for everyone.”

The Green Building Council of Australia’s advocacy manager Katy Dean welcomed the plan.

“Energy efficiency is a great place to start, but even greater savings are possible if issues like water, waste and indoor environment quality are also considered,” she said. “By looking holistically at each building, the NSW Government can provide better economic, social and environmental outcomes for the state.”

Of course, the GBCA also encouraged the government to implement its upcoming Green Star – Performance rating tool to be launched in October.

It’s a strong agenda, not just for the reality of carbon and cost savings this will hopefully make, but for the signal it sends to the green building industry – and households and businesses – that in terms of pursing a cleaner, leaner business environment, it’s game on.

In property, it doesn’t take much to galvanise and motivate change.

The federal government did it with the Green Building Fund – the first tranche was a mere $80 million (if you think about how many houses that buys, you realise what a modest investment that really was) with a small top-up later.

The leading property companies used their generally grant allocations to innovate and build the results and knowledge gained into their regular programs.

Although it’s a great idea because it melds cost savings with carbon savings, energy efficiency is neither brain surgery nor ideology. It’s pure conservative orthodoxy – it makes sense to save money, make systems more efficient, designed for the long term.

The marketers say saving money is uninspiring and boring. But if you think that every $100 you save and put to the bottom line could take many times that amount in gross turnover to turn into net profit, then it looks like easy money.

But easy it’s not, and collaboration helps.

Finding ways to collaborate seems to be a key, and the NSW plan acknowledges that tackling energy and climate change policies is a national agenda that requires working in harmony.

Nice word.

The plan is at least partly designed to minimise the price impacts of the Commonwealth’s climate change policy through “complementary” energy efficiency actions, the document says.

It outlines that work is under way by Australian Government to establish a National Energy Savings Initiative, and that a “harmonised” and “robust” national market for energy efficiency could help NSW energy consumers save money on bills.

“So the NSW and Victorian governments have led the development of a national market for energy efficiency through the NSW Energy Savings Scheme and the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target,” the plan says.

In the government buildings retrofit area, the NSW government has also been working with Victoria to find some common templates and learnings from that state’s Greener Government Buildings program, managed by Sam Burke, through the Department of Treasury and Finance.

Victorian Treasury has provided virtually unlimited funds to retrofit major facilities such as the MCG, hospitals and universities with energy efficiency programs that will save the taxpayer billions in energy costs over the medium term. As long as the payback is within seven years.

See our previous articles:

Victorian government in radical retrofit program

NSW Health audit report: too much energy waste; try harder

As Burke explained to The Fifth Estate for one of our previous articles, you need to develop some templates and benchmarks that can work across a range of government agencies that might each have vastly different imperatives.

Hospitals for instance. Reviews of the health departments in each state found major failures to implement energy savings programs (maybe they had more urgent priorities on their minds, such as hospital beds, nurses and doctors).

NSW’s commitment to specialists who can be trained specifically to work on energy efficiency is good news.

One of the biggest hurdles has been setting up a panel of contractors that have jumped through all the hoops and are contract-ready to get to work across these disparate portfolios, and this two will be shared between the states.

The panel includes Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Siemens, TES, AGL, AG Coombs, Origin, Ecosave, Dalkia, Schneider, Alerton and Carbonetix.

Another more micro bit of harmonic logic is that that the NSW plan includes creation of some standard contracts for energy efficiency projects. For small business in particular, reinventing the contract wheel each time can be prohibitively expensive.

The bad news on all this nice collaboration is that the NSW Energy Efficiency Action Plan notes that if there is a change in the direction of the federal programs, the plan will be reviewed?”to ensure that it continues to complement any Commonwealth programs”.

We hope that doesn’t mean that if Tony Abbott succeeds and dumps the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the carbon tax, then the NSW government will dump its energy savings/cost savings program. We hope not. And  trust that some states at least, can hold the line on logic.

A look at the daily electioneering is not encouraging.

In last week’s climate clanger, Abbott told told reporters that his direct action budget won’t be increased even if it falls short of meeting Australia’s targets on emissions reductions.

The Climate Institute said another $4 billion was needed as top-up to the $3.2 billion committed by Abbott or Australia would not only fail to meet its measly five per cent emissions reduction target by 2020, but emissions would rise nine per cent.

A report from AECOM, commissioned by Businesses for a Clean Economy, found that 88 per cent of the 180 businesses surveyed wanted a price on carbon to address climate change, with 65 per cent favouring an emissions trading scheme, and 29 per cent favouring a fixed price.

But what’s the desire of business, the economy and climate change when you’ve got swinging, non-reading, non-political, couldn’t-care-less voters to schmooze.