Energy efficiency experts are being urged to join the Victorian Government’s Service Provider Panel for the first round of its new Better Commercial Buildings initiative, first flagged by The Fifth Estate in May.

The program has allocated $1.76 million to support energy efficiency improvements to commercial buildings, including offices, hotels, retail centres and data centres.

Building owners, agents, facilities managers or tenants can apply for up to $30,000 towards energy efficiency projects, Victorian minister for energy, environment and climate change Lily D’Ambrosio said.

She said the state’s commercial buildings represented an “untapped opportunity in the fight against climate change”.

“Reducing energy costs saves money, improves productivity, and increases the health and wellbeing of workers and the environment,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Activities that will be supported under the program include engaging one of the pre-approved service providers to undertake an energy audit; implement energy efficiency upgrades; and measure and verify building performance improvements.

The program will also provide access to third-party finance to assist with projects.

Ms D’Ambrosio said a project undertaken through the grant program could improve a building’s NABERS rating by one star on average.

“This is a great opportunity for owners to boost the value of their building by increasing its NABERS rating,” she said.

The Energy Efficiency Council welcomed the initiative.

“For many years Australians have been the beneficiaries of very low electricity prices. However, the low cost of supply meant that not much attention was paid to how productively that energy was being used,” EEC chief executive Luke Menzel said.

“Unfortunately, the unit cost of energy has skyrocketed over recent years. While energy prices are unlikely to return to their historic lows, the good news is that we can keep bills down by embracing energy efficiency.”

He said tenants were generally responsible for paying bills, so good energy performance would become increasingly important for buildings owners competing for tenants.

“Interest in energy efficiency is rising along with energy prices; this program will help smart building owners get ahead of that curve.”

The tender to join the pre-approved Service Provider panel closes 31 August at 3pm. A briefing session will be held Wednesday 16 August at 3pm at Sustainability Victoria’s office at Urban Workshop.