Energy efficiency gets welcome policy boost in $60m S.A. commitment

South Australia’s Liberal Marshall government has been busy lately, boosting the state’s home battery scheme and sending mixed messages on electric vehicle uptake; so a $60 million commitment to boost energy efficiency in government buildings nearly slipped under the radar.

But it is worth noting. Indeed, according to South Australia’s energy minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan, the newly announced commitment is the largest per capita stimulus investment of any Australian government in improving the energy efficiency of public buildings.

This may well be true, but it’s a low bar. As One Step Off The Grid has reported, Australia’s standards for thermal and energy efficiency in buildings are pretty woeful compared to the rest of the world, lagging 10-15 years behind Europe and parts of north America. And an alarming lack of effective state and federal policy has not helped.

The fact is, energy efficiency will be a vital policy tool for any government aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050, and offers a simple and high value-for-money way to cut carbon, reduce peak demand on the grid and lower power costs.

It’s also a great way to create green jobs – International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol recently called energy efficiency a “job-creation machine.” According to the South Australia government, this initiative alone will create up to 430 jobs.

“We want to build what matters – getting people working now, whilst saving taxpayers money, cutting our carbon emissions and reducing peak demand,” said van Holst Pellekaan in a statement last week.

“Simple measures like better insulation, shading, new lighting and more efficient air-conditioning can bring older public buildings that get too hot in summer and too cold in winter in line with modern energy efficiency standards.

“The measures will reduce peak demand on the grid, make state government buildings more comfortable and healthier places to be, whilst saving taxpayers an estimated minimum of $7 million each year once upgrades have been fully implemented.”

Industry and environment groups have welcomed the energy efficiency commitment from South Australia, describing it as “real leadership” on climate and the environment.

“This is textbook public policy that delivers a win-win for industry and the environment – energy efficiency is jobs intensive and taps into local workforce and supply chains to deliver stimulus while also reducing emissions,” said Daniel Gannon, the executive director of the South Australia Property Council.

Suzanne Toumbourou, executive director of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council said this kind of policy “essential” to cutting emissions, considering that governments owned or leased roughly 30 per cent of Australia’s non-residential buildings.

Energy Efficiency Council CEO, Luke Menzel, said the $60 million investment in more efficient public buildings was “pretty much the smartest action” the South Australia government could take to kickstart the state’s economy right now.

“It will create hundreds of jobs for tradies and engineers while saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We urge other governments to follow their lead,” Menzel said.

“The South Australian government has delivered a decisive win for both the economy and the environment today,” said the CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia, Davina Rooney.

“Energy efficiency is the cheapest form of emissions reduction, it increases the health and wellbeing of occupants and creates jobs.”

“The escalating risks and adverse impacts from our changing climate are unsustainable and so severe as to warrant a legislative response of this nature,” Rooney said.

“The proposed legislation aligns with what the GBCA, and indeed green building councils around the world, have been calling for as part of the global Advancing Net Zero initiative.”

Craig Wilkins, the CEO of the Conservation Council of South Australia said that while there was much more to be done, the South Australia efficiency announcement was a great sign the Marshall government was ramping up the state’s clean energy transition.

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