Sustainability experts and energy groups would like to see COAG’s energy efficiency measures go much further. Photo: Tasman Miller

by Lynne Blundell

Higher energy efficiency standards for both residential and commercial buildings got the tick of approval at this year’s Coalition of Australian Governments’ (COAG) meeting but builders and energy groups argue the scheme needs further changes and sustainability experts would like to see it go further.

COAG agreed that from 2011 the energy efficiency rating for houses will increase from 5 to 6 stars. Mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency for commercial buildings will commence in 2010 and for residential buildings by 2011.

Five key measures were agreed on to improve the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings across Australia:

· increasing the stringency of energy efficiency requirements for all classes of commercial buildings in the Building Code of Australia from 2010

· phasing in the mandatory disclosure of the energy efficiency of commercial buildings and tenancies from 2010

· increasing energy efficiency requirements for new residential buildings to six stars, or equivalent, nationally in the 2010 update of the Building Code of Australia, as well as introducing new efficiency requirements for hot-water systems and lighting

· phasing in mandatory disclosure of residential building energy, greenhouse and water performance at the time of sale or lease, commencing with energy efficiency, from May 2011

· reforming current building energy efficiency standard and assessment processes to achieve consistency across the nation.

COAG also agreed to reform the current rating and assessment processes for building energy efficiency standards. The reform objective is consistent application across Australia while at the same time ensuring standards are climatically relevant.

But builders believe a nationwide six star standard will make new homes unaffordable and want the emphasis to be on retrofitting existing homes.

Energy groups are also unhappy – they want more consistency to regulations across the nation.

Builders says emphasis should be on retrofits

The Master Builders Association says that since new building only replaces about two per cent of stock each year, the focus should be on increasing the energy efficiency of existing homes.

Master Builders Association says that since new building only replaces about two per cent of stock each year, the focus should be on increasing the energy efficiency of existing homes.

“This will have a direct and negative impact on housing affordability in Victoria. Small builders and buyers in established suburbs and in regional areas will be the hardest hit,” says de Silva.

“While we are happy to see new regulations being brought in for existing homes, mandating pre-sale conversion of dual flush toilets and low flow shower heads are both missed opportunities.”

Architect and commentator, Caroline Pidcock, said she was suspicious of the MBA claims on costs as “the same spurious arguments were used for 5 star and proved to be totally unfounded.”

Australian industry needed to keep up with the rest of the world or would be left behind.

“Also, as happened with both BASIX and 5 star, the costs will come down further once the regulation is in place,” Ms Pidcock said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation also dismissed the MBA’s claims on cost increases. The ACF’s Monica Richter said in a recent media statement that while builders say the costs of moving to 6 star would be $10,000 “actual calculations indicate otherwise.”

An unpublished study by RMIT’s Lifetime Affordable Housing project found seven stars to be significantly more affordable than five-star homes, Ms Richter said.

“The best cost outcome is a 7.2-star standard, which provides a simple payback of seven years. This takes no account of the extra comfort experienced in better homes, the reduction in marginal load on the grid, the fact that the house is cheaper to run than a five or six star variant, nor the higher resale value of the house which are estimated to be around $9000.”

But the ACF also wants the Building Code of Australia to bring in “comprehensive water saving measures for Australian buildings,”Ms Richter said.

“Several states have already taken steps to ensure that all new buildings have a 2500–5000 litre rainwater tank connected to the toilet and laundry.

“The Building Code of Australia should be extended to include requirements for all new homes to have rainwater tanks or equivalent water savings from recycled water.

On commercial buildings The ACF believes that minimum standards for new commercial buildings should be increased to 5-star NABERS Energy rather than the current standard, based on 3–3.5 stars NABERS Energy.

Government misses opportunity to cut energy in buildings

Peter Szental, managing director of Szencorp and President of the Energy Efficiency Council, said the building industry had been left out in the cold by the draft National Strategy on Energy Efficiency. He believes the Government is completely ignoring calls to reduce energy use in existing buildings and is calling for programs for commercial building retrofits and incentives to reduce energy use in industry. (See his contribution on this issue in Spinifex.)

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has also called for more action on abatement in the built environment (see Romily Madew’s article in Spinifex this issue).

Energy and business groups told COAG their plans would fail without a national body to ensure consistency of policy across the country.

A group comprising the Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA), the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and the Energy Users’ Association of Australia (EUAA) called on COAG to commit to the creation of Energy Efficiency Australia as a new national organisation with responsibility for the development, administration and review of energy efficiency programs in Australia.

ESAA chief executive officer, Clare Savage, said that while COAG’s commitment to a national strategy for energy efficiency was to be applauded the approach would not deliver emissions reductions at least cost.

“COAG’s ad hoc approach to energy efficiency is also not complementary to the CPRS. It is vital that governments impose a moratorium on any new energy efficiency policy measures until there is a commitment to a national energy efficiency governance framework,” said Ms Savage.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au