Victoria tips “unprecedented” $800 million into home energy efficiency

The Victorian government has unveiled a massive nearly $800 million home energy saving package that will incentivise smart appliances and heating systems, boost the energy efficiency standards of new and existing homes, and expand the state’s solar and battery rebate scheme.

The significant new policy suite was announced on Tuesday, ahead of next week’s delivery of the state’s “Covid” budget that will lay the groundwork for the state’s economic recovery from a months-long shut down in response to the Coronavirus.

Energy minister for the Andrews Labor government, Lily D’Ambrosio, said in a statement that an investment of $797 million would help Victorians cover the cost of their “working-from-home” affected power bills while laying the foundations to make homes more energy efficient in the future.

In immediate terms, the package offers a one-off $250 “direct bill relief” payment towards energy costs for eligible concession card holders, including anyone receiving JobSeeker, youth allowance or pension payments.

More impressive, however, are the long-term measures the Andrews government is putting in place to drive down energy consumption across Australian households and to ensure comfortable and healthy living conditions for all, rather than just those who can afford it.

To this end, the package includes a $14 million expansion of the state’s existing Victorian Energy Upgrades program, to allow “every single Victorian household” to access rebates for more energy efficient appliances.

Another $335 million will fund the replacement of old wood, electric or gas-fired heaters with new energy-efficient systems for low-income earners – an initiative that D’Ambrosio says will save 250,000 households between $300 to $900 a year on their energy bills.

And a further $112 million allocation will go towards sealing windows and doors, and upgrading heating, cooling and hot water in 35,000 social housing properties.

Funding will also be used to introduce minimum efficiency standards for rental properties – identified as some of the most thermally inefficient housing stock in the state – and to put Victoria on track for a minimum 7-star efficiency standards for all new homes.

Also on the agenda is a $191 million expansion of the government’s Solar Homes program, which will see a further 42,000 rebates offered in the popular scheme, meaning a total of 140,000 households will be able to install solar panels on their roof at no upfront cost over next two years.

The state’s discounted solar offering is also being opened up to small businesses for the first time, with a total of 15,000 solar rebates being put up for grabs.

And finally the government appears to have opened the state’s home battery rebate to “Victorians in every corner of the state” – it has previously been restricted to certain postcodes – with 17,500 up for grabs over the coming three years.

“Most Victorians have spent more time at home this year – and more on power bills – than they ever have. That’s why we’re helping those struggling to pay their bills and making homes across the state more energy efficient,” minister D’Ambrosio said in a statement.

“This pandemic has been hard enough without worrying about whether you can pay the power bill. Not only will we help cover that cost – we’ll help Victorians make their home more efficient and fight climate change.”

The announcement of what is being described as “the biggest household energy efficiency package” in any Australian state’s history has been welcomed be industry and environment groups, both as a long neglected recipient of government funding and as a first step towards catching up to the standards of the rest of the developed world.

“Energy efficiency is a smart form of economic stimulus in our post-pandemic recovery because it lowers bills and cuts greenhouse gas pollution while also creating many local jobs in a range of trades across the state,” said Environment Victoria campaigns manager Dr Nicholas Aberle on Tuesday.

“Inefficient homes are unhealthy homes. More Victorians die from living in cold homes than they do in Sweden – a much colder country. The heatwave before Black Saturday in 2009 was responsible for more deaths than the fires themselves.

“Replacing hundreds of thousands of old, inefficient gas heaters also means Victoria should have no need for new environmentally damaging gas supply projects, like AGL’s plans to import gas through Crib Point in Westernport Bay,” he added.

“Efficient reverse-cycle air-conditions are now the most cost-effective and energy-efficient way of heating a home, so this is great news for people’s bills and for the climate.”

Australia’s Energy Efficiency Council also welcomed the policy announcement from Victoria, with CEO Luke Menzel describing it as “a transformative investment” from the Andrews government.

“We know that energy efficiency upgrades of buildings have the biggest jobs multiplier of any form of energy efficiency stimulus. Victoria is harnessing that jobs multiplier to supercharge their post-COVID recovery, creating good local jobs, fixing up the homes of Victorian families and cutting a shedload of carbon along the way,” Menzel said.

“Not just that, but they have backed in minimum energy efficiency rental standards and are investing in preparations for a new 7-star standard for new builds.

“Those are significant long term policies, and underline a commitment from the Andrews Government to make sure all Victorian families get to live in comfortable, efficient homes powered by renewable energy.”

The Clean Energy Council was also impressed by the move, giving special mention to the expanded solar rebate and battery schemes.

“The Andrews Government has used its solar rebate program to improve standards for safety, quality and new technology,” said CEC chief Kane Thornton on Tuesday. “We expect the battery rebate will also help deliver in these areas as well as strengthening and stabilising the grid.

“Importantly, today’s announcement allows energy users and the rooftop solar industry to reap the benefits immediately, unlike long-term projects,” Thornton added.

“Rooftop solar and battery installation will be a welcome relief for stretched household budgets and the state’s Clean Energy Council Accredited Installers and Approved Solar Retailers. This sort of activity is critical in moving Victoria towards a Clean Recovery.”

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