About 50 per cent of all local councils in Victoria will now be able to offer Environmental Upgrade Finance, with an expansion of the partnership between the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Sustainable Melbourne Fund (SMF).

ARENA is providing $390,000 to enable 15 more local councils to offer Environmental Upgrade Finance to businesses in their local government area through SMF’s services.

The original agreement between SMF and ARENA signed in April 2016 was for 15 councils over two-and-a-half years. Currently, 14 councils have taken up or are in the process of taking up the opportunity.

Projects are carried out under an Environmental Upgrade Agreement (EUA), and enable proponents to repay low-cost financing through their council rates. The types of initiatives covered include installing solar PV, lighting upgrades, HVAC upgrades and other measures to reduce energy use and carbon emissions.

The new cash injection comes hard on the heels of the announcement in May that the Victorian government had committed funding to SMF under its Boosting Business Productivity grants program.

Since the agreement with ARENA commenced in April last year, $8.25 million in renewable energy loans has been secured in participating municipalities, which include regional councils such as Greater Shepparton, City of Greater Bendigo and South Gippsland, as well as suburban Melbourne councils, Mornington Peninsula and Greater Geelong City Council.

The projects to date are also saving small to medium enterprises about $1.5 million in annual energy costs and have slashed 5953 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our original partnership was met with strong uptake,” SMF chief executive Scott Bocskay said.

“The expansion of this program will enable nearly 50 per cent of all local governments within Victoria to offer Environmental Upgrade Finance cheaply and efficiently to their communities.

“Opening up this marketplace creates greater investment opportunities for renewable energy projects across the state. These investments deliver value to local communities by reducing business operating costs, whilst creating a cleaner energy future.”

He said EUF finance would become available to all manner of businesses, including farms and factories, to boost business productivity.

“This directly grows business profits, reduces power bills and delivers capital growth. As a result, it increases businesses’ economic resilience and improves energy productivity across the state.”

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said the agency was excited to see the program expanded.

“The success of the program shows that there is growing community awareness of the benefits that renewable energy brings to local businesses whether it be from cost savings or contributing to reducing Australia’s emissions,” Mr Frischknecht said.