Victoria announces package to tackle mid-tier office and resi efficiency

Victorian energy, environment and climate change minister Lily D'Ambrosio
Victorian energy, environment and climate change minister Lily D'Ambrosio

Funding to boost the performance of underachieving mid-tier commercial buildings and strengthen new residential building standards are among a broad suite of energy efficiency measures announced by the Victorian government on Thursday.

The lion’s share of the $18.8 million package is $8.9 million to “strengthen energy efficiency regulations for new homes”.

Energy, environment and climate change minister Lily D’Ambrosio told The Fifth Estate this would involve “reviewing the energy efficiency regulations for new homes that apply in Victoria; working with builders to construct high-efficiency homes in growth suburbs; driving improved building industry compliance with energy efficiency regulations; and reviewing energy efficiency requirements at a national level.”

There is speculation there are plans to increase the stringency of the current 6 Star NatHERS minimum for new homes.

“We want to ensure that Victoria’s homes are the most comfortable and healthy in Australia,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“We’re making sure new home buyers are getting what they pay for, so we will work with the Victorian Building Authority to increase building industry compliance with energy efficiency regulations.”

Targeting the mid-tier laggards

There’s also $1.8 million in new funding for a new Better Commercial Buildings Program, which will fund energy efficiency improvements for 50 poor-performing mid-tier buildings.

Ms D’Ambrosio said the program would provide grants to commercial buildings and tenancies (including offices, hotels, retail and data centres) to:

  • Conduct energy audits via a panel of pre-approved service providers
  • Implement energy efficiency upgrades of their choice
  • Measure and verify building efficiency improvement

“The program will also provide access to third-party finance to assist with upgrades.”

The program follows Sustainability Victoria’s three-year Energy Efficient Office Buildings program, which helped 20 mid-tier offices cut energy by 29 per cent and increase NABERS Energy ratings by one star with a three-year payback.

This led to:

  • 4000 tonnes CO2 emissions reduction over a 12-month period
  • More than $1.1 million in savings in energy bills a year
  • More than $10 million in co-investment from building owners
  • More than 90 jobs

Energy Efficiency Council chief executive Luke Menzel said the funding aligned with recommendations made by the EEC to target the mid tier.

Applications are scheduled to open in July, and owners/agents and service providers interested in participating in the program can register their details here.

Residential Efficiency Scorecard and disclosure

$5.7 million has been committed to “program delivery and ongoing enhancements” for the government’s Residential Efficiency Scorecard, which was due to launch last year. It was released in March though trials are still ongoing.

The scorecard provides households with an energy efficiency rating for their home on a 10-star scale. It has been designed by the government to better educate households on understanding their energy performance and providing them with informed options on making improvements.

Scorecard assessors look at elements including heaters, airconditioners, hot water systems, construction materials and renewable energy sources such as solar to give a rating out of 10, representing the average cost of running the home.

The certificate also explains how a home is expected to perform under hot weather conditions.

While it is expected there will be a fee for service when the program fully rolls out, currently bodies like Moreland Energy Foundation’s social enterprise Positive Charge are offering free assessments to concession card holders, renters or low-income earners.

The final announcement in the package is $2.4 million to “establish the foundations of energy efficiency standards for residential properties and the disclosure of energy ratings when homes are sold”.

The Victorian government first announced it was looking into mandatory disclosure for residential properties all the way back in 2015.

Ms D’Ambrosio said the government was still assessing its options.

“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning held a stakeholder workshop earlier this year to discuss options related to improving rental energy efficiency. A key consideration raised by stakeholders and receiving further consideration by government is ensuring that measures taken do not adversely impact housing affordability,” she said.

“To build a solid foundation for options, we are undertaking further analysis and consultation to seek an option designed to maximise benefits for all Victorians.”

Mr Menzel said while much of the funding was a continuation of previous announcements, it was important for governments to “do their homework” to make sure things were well-designed.

“Otherwise things don’t work and you’ve got disappointed people all around.”

He said investing more at the beginning would make sure the programs were robust and that all appropriate stakeholders were consulted.

“That will give the best chance of success.”

Low-income housing

In a separate announcement, the government also expanded upon its budget increase of $8.1 million to the Home Energy Assist program, with the total package now standing at $17 million.

The package includes:

  • $6.5 million for the Victorian Healthy Homes Program to upgrade the homes of 1000 vulnerable Victorians with complex healthcare needs and low incomes
  • $4.3 million for the EnergySmart Public Housing Program, which will replace inefficient electric water heaters and electric heaters in 1300 public housing properties and deliver tailored upgrades to a further 200 from 1 July 2017
  • $6.1 million as part of an Affordable Retrofits Program to support more than 800 Victorian concession card holders with home energy retrofits, appliance replacements, solar panels and energy literacy programs

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2 Responses to “Victoria announces package to tackle mid-tier office and resi efficiency”

  • Bold and beautiful. How much of this package is going to go towards education of designers, builders and trades? We must enable industry to be compliant to existing and heightened regulations. New and refreshed pinpoint education is critical. Learnings must then be activated and tested by via an As Built mechanism. We must ensure that, as an industry, we are tackling climate change and a healthy uplift for our community well beyond our current programs and projects.

  • Rodriguez says:

    This is great news. In order to catch up with the rest of the developed world, Australia needs to do much more to tighten the regulations on, for example, air tightness and PassivHaus. More importantly, auditing buildings and building components, such as windows to ensure compliance will slowly weed out the widespread rackets (in falsified energy ratings, manufacturer/fabricator certification and product substitution) in the industry, hopefully leading to Australia-wide improvements.

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