A dizzying array grants

by Russell Fortmeyer…
FAVOURITES – 18 July 2009 -The Australian federal and state governments offer a wide range of grants for sustainable design, but weeding through the mix can be a confusing exercise…

As much as the private sector thinks it can do just fine without government support, the dirty secret of so much innovative building technology is that it owes its very existence to public subsidies. Nearly every country’s solar photovoltaics industry is driven by government subsidies—when the grant matching stops, so do sales.

The Australian federal and state governments offer a dizzying array of grants and alternative funding mechanisms to support sustainable design. Institutions, particularly the universities, and private property developers are increasingly using these to fund innovative things like black water treatment plants with sewer mining and solar thermal cooling systems, in addition to more conventional green approaches like photovoltaics and fluorescent lamp replacement schemes. Wading through these grant schemes can be a lot of work, as there are seemingly competing programs, many of which open and close in unpredictable ways.

The following list of government grant programs covers several of the major initiatives, so it’s not exhaustive, but it can act as a bit of a guide to what’s available. This information is only as good as the last program update, so it’s best to check the websites of each agency or authority before making any decisions; by far, the best site to begin this process is on the government’s www.granstlink.gov.au, which consolidates most, if not all, programs. This list probably favors federal and NSW grants over other states, but most states offer something.

And in the end, it’s always best to justify sustainable design initiatives on environmental, social, and financial merits first and not solely on the applicability of external funding sources.

Green Building Fund (GBF)
This $90 million program is administered by AusIndustry and applies to existing commercial buildings. It covers things like façade and building services upgrades, but doesn’t offer money for bolt-on technologies like wind turbines. www.ausindustry.gov.au See separate TFE article.

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)
Renewable Energy Certificates are issued to owners of renewable energy systems and are used to financially account for greenhouse gas reductions. RECs are issued by the Office for Renewable Energy Regulator (ORER). This is an electronic form of currency and not a conventional rebate. RECs are only issued once and cover all the energy that the system will produce over 15 years. A solar photovoltaic system installed at a building would qualify for RECs, though the financial benefit would be fairly negligible when compared to the cost of the system. See www.orer.gov.au for further details.

Renewable Energy Demonstration Program (REDP)
This $435 million program is administered by the Australian Government’s Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. The final version of this program was released on 20 February 2009. The grants are targeted at energy installations costing more than $20 million, therefore this program is not intended for stand-alone buildings. www.ret.gov.au

Climate Ready Program
The Australian Government’s Climate Ready Program is one of the three elements of the $240 million Clean Business Australia initiative and is a $75 million competitive grants program providing grants from $50,000 up to $5m on a matching funding basis to support research and development, proof-of-concept and early-stage commercialisation activities to develop solutions to climate change challenges. Administered by AusIndusry, this program is targeted more toward the developers of technology—like a wind turbine company—rather than those in the design and construction industries. No further funding rounds have been announced, but they are expected. www.ausindustry.gov.au

Geothermal Drilling Program (GDP)
This $50 million program, part of the Renewable Energy Fund, is administered by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and addresses large-scale geothermal installations. This is probably not meant for buildings or even precinct developments, but more for renewable energy providers using geothermal. www.ret.gov.au

Water for the Future
This Australian Government program includes a National Urban Water and Desalination Plan that provides matching grants of between $2 million and $20 million for stormwater reuse projects. Larger, precinct developments could potentially secure money through this program, but it’s unlikely that a stand-alone building would justify water technologies that would qualify for this program. It never hurts to ask, of course. www.environment.gov.au

Feed-In Tariff for Grid-Connected Renewable Energy Systems (ACT, VIC, NSW)
The ACT program begins 01 March 2009, with installations of less than 10kW offered a premium rate – over 10kW offered 80 per cent of the premium rate, and over 30kW to be confirmed by the program administrators. The premium rate is 50.05c/kWh up to 10kW capacity, 40.04c/kWh up to 30kW capacity. The program duration is expected to be 20 years, although it hasn’t been officially confirmed. The tariff is on top of whatever rate is set when supply agreements with building owners are established with energy providers. NSW is looking at a program like this, so it’s best to monitor this one if you’re considering renewable energy for your project. Of course, Victoria has offered a program since 2008 that is similar to what is on offer from the ACT. Check out www.environment.act.gov.au and www.dpi.vic.gov.au

Government Environment Grants (ACT)
The ACT Environment Grants scheme has been funded annually since 1997 and is currently administered by Environment and Recreation in the Department of Territory and Municipal Services. The program provides financial assistance for community-based environment projects that complement delivery of the Government’s environmental priorities, particularly in relation to the Canberra Plan strategic theme: Living with the Environment – our Bush Capital, which addresses our relationship with our environment in terms of resource use, nature conservation and opportunities for sustainable environmental interaction. Applications are open to not-for-profit environmental projects in the ACT by individuals, community organisations and groups. These are small grants—up to $15,000—but might fit the right project. www.tams.act.gov.au

Urban Sustainability Program (NSW)
This program, administered by the NSW Environmental Trust, is directed toward local councils and provides funding for urban stormwater reuse systems, among other initiatives. The next funding round is in 2010. www.environment.nsw.gov.au

Climate Change Fund: Renewable Energy Development Program (NSW)
This program is administered by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change. It provides funding for large-scale installations of renewable energy technology, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass, based on the cost-effectiveness of avoiding dependence on the NSW electricity grid. This program could be used to fund, in full or part, a renewable energy installation at a stand-alone building. The first round of funding has closed and a further round has not been announced. www.environment.nsw.gov.au

Green Business Program (NSW)
This program is administered by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change. It addresses energy efficiency and water-saving projects of a general nature. To qualify, projects are expected to save 2500MWh of electricity and/or reduce peak electricity demand by 500kW or save 100 megalitres of potable water a year. A stand-alone building could be eligible to pursue funding in this program, however renewable energy proposals would likely be directed toward the NSW Climate Change Fund’s REDP (listed above). The first round of funding for the Green Business Program has closed and a further round has not been announced. www.environment.nsw.gov.au

In Queensland, anything from a solar-powered swimming pool chlorination systems to a rainwater collection and reuse system

Four Seasons Energy Pilot Program (VIC)
This two-year program, administered by Business Victoria, part of the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, encourages the use of geothermal heat exchangers to improve heating and cooling system efficiency in Victoria. It is targeted toward public projects, like libraries and schools.  www.business.vic.gov.au

Renewable Energy Water Pumping Rebates (VIC)
This program, administered by Sustainability Victoria, offers incentives for isolated, rural developments (at least one kilometre from the nearest electrical grid) to install water pumping systems that use renewable energy. www.resourcesmart.vic.gov.au

Sustainability Fund (VIC)
This is Sustainability Victoria’s catch-all program, administered by both the Victorian Treasurer and the Minister for Environment and Climate Change. Applications are accepted for a wide-range of proposals for the sustainable use of resources and in good waste management. www.sustainability.vic.gov.au

Queensland Sustainable Energy Innovation Fund (QLD)
Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, this fund provides up to $200,000 in matching grants for improving energy efficiency or reducing water use. This could be anything from a solar-powered swimming pool chlorination systems to a rainwater collection and reuse system, so it’s probably good to know this program if you’re working in Queensland. It’s available only to Queensland-based organisations. The last funding round was in November 2008. www.epa.qld.gov.au

Russell Fortmeyer is an ESD engineer with Arup’s Sydney office. He writes frequently on architecture, technology and sustainability.