On tides turning our way

The tide is turning and heading our way.

It’s now unmistakable.The mood on sustainability has lifted in Victoria, there’s a chirpiness around Queensland, and South Australia has some good news to report on energy efficiency, social housing and green ambitions that include making Adelaide carbon neutral.

Along the east coast at least companies are sharpening their pencils and getting ready for some action. The people we’ve been speaking to are feeling on the up, especially if they’re involved in energy efficiency.

In Victoria the best bit of gossip is that treasurer Tim Pallas is considering bringing back the Greener Government Building program and that he’s already received a through briefing. Our industry source said it would be in a modest way and through the departments.

Now we hope that’s not quite right because this program, designed to save squillions of taxpayer funds spent by tightening up the energy efficiency of the biggest energy guzzler buildings run by government, was pared back severely by the last government. And look where it ended up.

A spokeswoman from the treasurer’s office told us on Thursday afternoon that as Parliament was sitting there was not time to obtain a formal response (we initially put the question through about four weeks ago). Let’s hope the minister gets to the GGBP before getting tied in up in the new budget shenanigans.

Certainly Tony Arnel who steps up as president of the Clean Energy Council on top of his duties as global sustainability chief with Norman Disney and Young, says there could well be better news around soon.

The critical problem to date, he says, has been lack of government leadership.

Certainly in his new gig, Arnel will be helping to push the energy efficiency agenda.

One area that could do with some help co-generation which has suffered in recent times. It could do with some “appropriate policy settings”, he says.

Interesting to hear from another source that Planet Ark could be moving more into the built environment space. This outfit has already staked its interest in timber construction and now it’s realised, perhaps that the entire built environment sector is worthy of serious environmental attention.

The latest development in cross laminated timber is a hardwood various that called “strand timber” so cross laminated strand timber.

We’re onto it. Watch this space.

South Australia

Good news flew in from South Australia in abundance this week, with the state government fulfilling its promise to kick along energy efficiency and retrofit opportunities for Adelaide’s ageing commercial building stock.

The announcement came as Premier Jay Weatherill made a suite of promises including that that Adelaide would become a “carbon neutral city” with petrol cars discouraged from travelling through the CBD, urban sprawl banned and a new renewable energy investment agency created under the State Government’s latest plan for the state, a report in Adelaide Now said.

The premier said Adelaide could become fully green within a decade and seize a “first mover” advantage as the world responded to climate change, the report said. Interesting to see one of the SA news reports point out that Sydney was carbon neutral made possible purchasing credits, which seems to be confirmed by this media statement.

The government also said it would renew 4500 homes within 10 kilometres of the CBD by the end of the decade.

Climate change minister Ian Hunter said the building upgrade finance legislation was about the good economic sense of saving money. Not that this is a message understood by many of his political peers, clear and logical as it sounds.

No-one thinks EUAs or the BUF will save the world but as Local Government Association president David O’Loughlin said “it’s another tool in our kit bag”.

And then there’s the Erf

One thing that isn’t a tool in anyone’s kit bag (except maybe a brown paper bag) is the emissions reductions fund, increasingly described by its acronym and yep, because of what it sounds like when you say it aloud.

Interesting that the Property Council still thinks the ERF can be made to work. To be more precise, that the government can be encouraged to change it so that it can work. That was the message from new-ish chief executive of the PCA Ken Morrison who we caught up with last week to see what might be different at the big end of property town under his stewardship. (More to come on that.)

Right now, the way the ERF stands, is not at all encouraging, as we’ve reported previously.

One industry source this week said no one he talks to has the “slightest bit of interest in it”.

Another who is deeply embedded in the delivery of building energy retrofits says it’s “a wad of cash:” which no-one is going to turn down but which is never going to be enough to encourage a deal to get started.

In Melbourne there’s been some excitement that the new state government has met with the federal environment minister Greg Hunt to discuss if the ERF could be applied to government buildings such as hospitals and schools.

“It looks like there are no details, just discussions,” our source said.

We thought the ERF was better targeted at industrial scale buildings such as hospitals?

Not really, came the reply.

“Why I’m sceptical,” he said, “is that what’s being discussed in terms of price per tonne of carbon is less than what the carbon price was with the carbon tax (at $23-$24). They’re talking around $15 a tonne and that would only contribute less than 10 per cent of total project costs, so it’s minor.”

This applies to all kinds of buildings and over five years of course, it works out to only about 2 per cent a year, paid retrospectively.

Some people are getting excited, he said, but that’s because they’re not aware of the numbers.

“It’s the up front investment that’s the barrier and it doesn’t address that.”

Of course companies will continue to retrofit energy efficiency because it makes good sense, and then claim the kick back anyway. But much of the $2.4 billion mooted for the scheme, will get swallowed up to achieve nothing at all, really.

Just money in the bank for the big fellas. Did we say we couldn’t make sense of the PCA defending the ERF? Hmmm better revisit that.

South Australia gets inner city social housing. Sydney not.

On social housing, it’s interesting that South Australia says wants to renew 4500 homes within 10 kilometres of the CBD by the end of this decade.

That’s a contrast to what the NSW government is doing at its inner city patch at Miller’s Point, turning out every single social housing tenant so it can make a killing on sending the real estate to market.

Pleas from some very elderly and long term residents have fallen on deaf ears. As have continued calls for lower cost housing for essential but low paid service workers.

Certainly the Master Builders of SA were pleased with its state government. Chief executive John Stokes said, “Social housing is one of the most important investments we can make. It protects the families and people who need protection but cannot afford it, and provides that protection for decades. It requires and demands the highest possible standards.”

That sounds good: protection.

It will be good for jobs and business too, he said, namely “demolition companies, asbestos removalists, builders, plasterers, painters, and so on”.

Nice. Now maybe the SA MBA’s big brother can start to think about protecting its stakeholders environmentally too, by cleaning up the industry that despite all the green frogs on its livery continues to flout the regulations, and keep housing as unsustainable as possible.

See our recent special reports which also relate to commercial buildings, sadly:

Beware the turncoats

The near death experience of our prime minister, has had many people – on the left and the greens side no less – salivating at the prospect that Malcolm Turnbull will take over.

One columnist in The Age today (Thursday) brilliantly captured Turnbull’s charmingly deferential self-mockery, wry glance and knowing silence on questions of leadership, to show why he’s captivated the hipster set, and why so many people are considering crossing over to his side of the political divide.

“In the progressives’ wet dream Turnbull rides in as a saviour. He not only abolishes knights and dames but ushers in the republic. He not only exposes the climate sceptics, but restores the price on carbon.”

But be warned. Like the columnist we too want to point out that Turnbull has already indicated he won’t challenge anti climate anti emissions trading sentiment in the party. This man is keen on power and glory, not honour. His change of mind on climate attests to that. And it’s so easy to say all the right socially progressive things, when it costs you nothing to do so.

And why we care is that it would be so dreadfully destructive to any positive sentiment and hope left among climate action and sustainability supporters, to help get him into the top job  on a climate agenda and then be betrayed.

Dealing with the enemy is one thing: dealing with this kind of mind-bend is another.

A step too far.

A fact for all

So many questions about where the money is coming from for all the tax expenditure we need in the years ahead.

Here’s one source: $5.2 billion currently floating its way to the bank accounts of the big polluters.

According to the Australian Conservation Foundation (see ACF’s Federal Budget submission ) we could do very well indeed to bucket that list of beneficiaries.

ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy points out the “most notorious of these subsidies is the Fuel Tax Credit scheme, which allows companies like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto to pay virtually no tax on the diesel they use, while car drivers and small businesses are taxed 39c on every litre of fuel they buy.”