On Andrew Peterson,  Xenophon, Hunt, Bevilacqua, solar and NABERS rumours

12 September 2013 — Well Andrew Peterson, chief executive of Sustainable Business Australia, is one of the few people who got this election right.

In a catch up near the SBA digs at Tuscalum in Kings Cross, almost the night before Christmas (the Coalition’s, that is), Petersen said the Senate would be so full of marginal parties Coalition Leader Tony Abbott would struggle to get legislation through. And then anything can happen.

As we put this edition to bed, Bill Shorten announced a challenge for leadership of the Labor Party promising to block the carbon tax’s repeal.

Nick Xenophon has said Abbott should not count on his vote to repeal the tax. And nobody has any idea how the independents will vote on anything at all. It’s not clear they themselves know.

Abbott’s alternative climate change policy, Direct Action, was “clunky and inefficient”, Mr Xenophon said, and he wanted to sit down with the likely environment minister Greg Hunt to work out a “more sensible approach”, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

The line up of seriously unaligned people – who seemed to have stood for our government as a joke and are now surprised and hopefully even embarrassed to find themselves elected – could well determine some very significant changes in Australia’s trajectory.

Who’s going to get to these people and haul them over the ideological barrel to vote one way or the other?

When you think of the psychological pressure that our last independent politicians Tony Windsor and Rob Oakshott were placed under, you fear for the sanity of some of these unprepared souls.

So what have The Greens done to ensure that these new senators support the environment as best they can?

Too early to tell from our investigations.

One Greens source said, “Not even Antony Green in all his wisdom has predicted the layout of the Senate. We don’t know their policy platform; there’s a single mum, an unemployed single dad. They’ve signed up not expecting to get elected.”

Already there is the promise of ructions in the Palmer United Party.

Joke seems to be the dominant word. Maybe they could all unite under the Australian Jokesters Party.

“It’s a total schemozzle. The journos are shaking heir heads,” the Greens source said.

The good bit is it makes The Greens look conservative.

“We look very much like the conservative voice in all this. Previously they referred to us as loopy and nutjobs. But standing next to these people we look really normal and one of the most conservative bunch around.”

Time to get back to work now.

The problem is how?

There are all sorts of uncertainties. At least in the short term.

The property industry is trying to working out how the Coalition’s Direct Action will impact on it.

Catching up with Australand’s Paolo Bevilacqua for our story on solar and other sustainable elements in property, Bevilacqua who sits on a Property Council of Australia sub-committee says the thinking is the Coalition’s Direct Action might benefit buildings.

However, the reverse auction system means that the program with the lowest cost abatement for carbon wins the funding and building owners might need to band together to produce economies of scale to make the savings big enough and cheap enough.

The competition could be intense. Major industrial enterprises, for instance, might be able to save great quantities of carbon with small investments.

Greg Hunt, former environment shadow minister, and who could be an environment minister in the new government, mentioned buildings would be part of the DA in a speech in May to the Sydney Institute, but there has not been a lot of detail released.

“The allocation is of $300 million and then $500 million and $700 million – to $3.2 billion over four years,” Bevilacqua says, “so you would think the property industry will be able to get some of that.”

Even a fraction can be powerful, he said, pointing to the Green Building Fund which had just $120 million in total yet leveraged major transformation.

Solar

We’d called Bevilacqua to find out how sustainability was faring in the residential market.

A story in Bloomberg had got our attention: builders are now including solar panels as standard and hailing them as equivalent to the “next granite countertops”. According to the report:

At least six of 10 largest US homebuilders led by KB Home are including the photovoltaic devices in new construction, according to supplier SunPower Corp. (SPWR). Two California towns are mandating installations, and demand for the systems that generate electricity at home will jump 56 per cent nationwide this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“In the next six months, homebuilders in California and the expensive-energy states will be going solar as a standard, and just incorporating it into the cost of the house like any other feature.”

In an article for The Fifth Estate last year, writer and architectural critic Elizabeth Farrelly said what sustainability needed was to become aspirational:

Consider the iPhone. Not better, especially, than its competitors, but far more charming, it swept the market because it was gorgeous to look at, to listen to and to touch. Its magic is aesthetic, across at least three senses.  Samsung would have had to make a smell-phone to compete.

Imagine if Steve Jobs had put his mind to world-greening, instead of world domination.

Maybe the day has arrived.

The Bloomberg article lays out the rationale:

Power companies are losing business because they can’t cut their rates in line with the tumbling prices of residential solar systems. Those cost about $4.93 a watt in the first quarter, down 16 per cent from a year earlier, according to the Washington-based solar association. That was sparked by the 18 per cent slump in prices for solar panels and related hardware in the same period.

A 3-kilowatt system, enough to power a typical mid-size home, costs less than $15,000 and can be rolled into a mortgage, said Tom Werner, CEO of San Jose, California-based SunPower.

“You embed it into your home mortgage, you’re cashflow positive month one,” he said.

That’s similar to how some buyers decided to pay $5,000 or $10,000 for a kitchen countertop that would be from natural materials and would outlast a Formica-style top.

“We’re rapidly passing the equivalent of a ‘countertops decision’ to a ‘no-brainer.’ You just do it.”

Read the whole story

As people switch to solar the grid has less money for infrastructure, which means those left in the stone age pay more. Probably the poor.

Bevilacqua said it was no surprise.

The same thing would soon happen in Australia, he said, even in industrial properties, as advances in solar panel fabrication made panels lighter, easier to install and cheaper.

Solar embedded in building fabrics is also starting to appear and Australand will use it as a canopy in a new small shopping centre development.

See our report.

NABERS and BEEC rumours

Now that’s got your attention, we bet.

We’ve heard that the federal government (at least before the election) had been looking to make the building energy efficiency certificates, or BEEC, data base, available on line. This will contain information on lighting efficiency and so on.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors already has access to that data base for its leasa app, which we’ve profiled in these pages and the latest chapter in our Happiness Guide.

And you can get current information online through the publicly disclosed Commercial Building Disclosure program.

But what the database contains is all the historical data, not just the current crop.

So any ambitious energy provider company or potential investor for that matter would be able to look at up the database and work out how much business there was to be had along a certain street or within a certain property company.

Or if they’re an investor, we guess that means they can look up what the BEEC rating is of the entire portfolio, and whether it meets their sustainability requirements.

In fact, with databases you can tweak them and crunch the numbers anyway you like.

According to head of sustainability Pacific for CBRE Amanda Steele, the results might make a few underperforming owners feel a bit uncomfortable. But in general, she said, transparency was “good for competition and good for the environment”.

“Some owners might be nervous, but the owners who I deal with are getting good ratings so that would not be the case for them, but I can see it would be threatening for owners who are not so progressive.”