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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 296

Senator MILNE (4:14 PM) —I present the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Safe Climate (Energy Efficient Non-Residential Buildings Scheme) Bill 2010

This bill was introduced by the Australian Greens in the 42nd Parliament. The following second reading speech reflects the debate at the time of the bill’s original introduction.

While the Rudd Government and the Opposition are still enamoured of the idea that Australia has to balance acting on the climate crisis with the economic cost of such action, around the world forward-thinking businesses and governments are recognising that it is not either or, but both. There are tremendous economic opportunities in reducing our greenhouse pollution.

Energy efficiency is not only the fastest way to reduce our emissions but, when thoughtfully implemented, it also saves us more money than we spend to achieve those savings. With the implementation of sensible energy efficiency policies, Australia can achieve far greater emissions reductions than the Government has proposed in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and at far lower cost. Indeed, the Government’s failure to understand the huge economic benefits of embracing energy efficiency is central to the failure of ambition in the CPRS.

This Bill is designed to seize the huge environmental, social and economic benefits of upgrading Australia’s non residential buildings to be energy efficient - saving money for businesses and making a big dent in energy sector greenhouse pollution.

In order to play our fair part in avoiding catastrophic climate change, Australia needs to commit to at least 40% emissions cuts below 1990 levels by 2020, on our way to building a zero emissions economy. Whilst the Greens see an environmentally effective and economically efficient emissions trading scheme as key to that transformation, it is widely acknowledged that there is a range of non-price barriers to action in various sectors of the economy. If deep cuts are to be achieved an emissions trading scheme must be complemented by polices to urgently drive a huge expansion in renewable energy generation and the systematic exploitation of energy efficiency. Indeed it is likely that these complementary measures, particularly those which drive improvements in energy efficiency, will be more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the next several years.

Energy efficiency policies and measures are needed to overcome the non-price barriers and drive change in industrial facilities, non-residential buildings and homes. The Greens have legislative proposals to give effect to these measures at all three levels. This Bill proposes a new scheme to drive energy efficiency upgrades in existing non-residential buildings, including offices, hotels, shopping centres, hospitals and schools.

The main barriers to taking up energy-efficient measures include:

  • energy costs are typically a small proportion of total expenditure for most people. The potential savings are perceived as small compared to the time and effort needed to research and implement energy efficiency improvements;
  • frequently, the person who pays the energy bill is not the person responsible for the selection and purchase of energy-using equipment;
  • the benefits, or payback of these investments, are gradual, accruing over the medium to long term, as savings on energy bills;
  • information is not always available at the right time to consumers, tradespeople, managers and policy makers to enable informed energy efficiency choices to be made; and
  • many consumers lack capital to buy new energy-efficient equipment or make the required changes to their homes or businesses. Energy efficiency has to compete with other priorities for capital investment.

Because many of these barriers remain unaddressed, there is tremendous untapped potential in Australia for energy efficiency. The very high greenhouse intensity of our economy means that every gain in efficiency gives us a larger cut in emissions than almost any other OECD country. According to the Climate Institute Australia has the third highest energy intensity of OECD countries, with only Canada and US worse performers. During the period 1990-2004 Australia’s energy efficiency improved at a rate three times slower than the OECD average.

Energy use in Australia’s non-residential buildings alone was responsible for 17.7% of our total energy related emissions in 2005, according to energy policy and planning consultant George Wilkenfeld. Yet this energy demand, principally for heating or cooling, lighting, and equipment, can be substantially and cost-effectively reduced.

In June this year US President Obama talked about “technologies that are available right now or will soon be available”, which can “make our buildings up to 80 percent more energy efficient”.

According to conservative research published by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ABSEC):

  • Electricity demand in residential and commercial buildings can be halved by 2030, and reduced by more than 70 per cent by 2050 through energy efficiency;
  • Energy efficiency alone could deliver savings of 30-35 per cent across the whole building sector, including the growth in the overall number of buildings, out to 2050;
  • Energy savings across the entire the building sector could reduce the costs of greenhouse gas abatement across the whole economy by $30 per tonne, or 14 per cent, by 2050;
  • By 2050, GDP could be improved by around $38 billion per year if building sector energy efficiency is adopted, compared to previous economy-wide estimates of the 60 % deep cuts scenario.

Failure to respond to the tremendous potential presented by energy efficiency is a major weakness of the Government’s approach to climate change.

Information provided to a Senate inquiry by Szencorp highlighted that Government statements to the UNFCCC indicate it believes that improving energy efficiency across all sectors could result in savings of just 3Mt per annum by 2020. Contrast this to estimates from McKinsey & Co - about 50 Mt and ASBEC - 39-45Mt, both by 2020.  Considering that the savings identified by just 165 companies in the first round of the Energy Efficiency Opportunities report amount to 4.7Mt, it is clear that the Government just doesn’t understand or has chosen not to calculate the real potential of energy efficiency for greenhouse gas reduction.

Options for creating an incentive to improve commercial building energy efficiency

A number of policy options to improve non-residential building energy efficiency - primarily related to disclosure of energy performance, green tax incentives or some form of ‘white certificate trading’ - have been promoted in the past with limited success locally and internationally - including the UK and European Union.

Mandatory disclosure of building energy performance and greenhouse gas emissions, a policy that the Greens took to the last election, requires all commercial office buildings to assess and disclose their energy intensity prior to sale or lease, and for large commercial office buildings to disclose their energy performance on an ongoing basis. The Greens note that COAG has recently agreed to introduce energy performance disclosure prior to sale or lease. Disappointingly, however, no time frame has been agreed for all other building types and no information has been provided to confirm the requirement will be the important disclosure of energy intensity and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the mandatory disclosure of a building’s energy performance the Greens believe the Government must create a stronger incentive for building owners to invest in energy efficiency retrofits.

One increasingly popular way to create such an incentive is with a ‘white certificates’ trading scheme. A white certificate represents avoided energy consumption and so can be created by voluntary improvements energy efficiency. A market for the certificates is created by requiring electricity retailers to buy a certain number of certificates each year. These schemes, in various forms, are common including in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. The New South Wales Scheme is the longest running and it has had a less than 1% uptake by the non-residential building sector, creating doubt about its potential to unlock the environmental and economic opportunity.

How the Energy Efficient Non-Residential Buildings Scheme would work

There is, however, an alternative energy efficiency trading approach which can build upon these ideas. This approach has been developed and promoted by Lend Lease Corporation, Lincolne Scott and Advanced Environmental and we believe this idea, which prompted the development of this Bill, has a number of advantages over a white certificates trading scheme.

The scheme would have four main steps:

1. Consistent with the Greens existing policy on mandatory disclosure of energy and carbon intensity, the scheme will start with building owners reporting the energy and carbon intensity of their base building, measured as greenhouse gas emissions per square metre. We envisage that the scheme would start with large office buildings (say those with a net lettable area greater than 5,000m2), with smaller office buildings and other building types (such as hotels, hospitals, retail centres schools, etc) being phased in over a few years.

2. Once two years of data on the building energy and carbon intensity is received, the Minister would then set an intensity cap for each building type, each year for 10 years, probably starting with the average intensity for a city or region. This would vary by city or region due to local climatic conditions impacting the average. As with the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the cap would decline predictably over time, with cap ‘gateways’ to balance investor certainty with the need for regulatory flexibility.

3. The scheme administrator (the same as would be used for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) will then allocate tradable certificates, each worth one tonne of greenhouse gas (known as CO2equivalents), to each participating building owner, up to the cap. In other words the amount of certificates each building owner would receive would be determined by the emission intensity cap for their building type, and the size of their building.

4. A trading mechanism would then allow building owners to buy and sell the tradable certificates. Owners of buildings which are more efficient than the cap will be allocated more certificates than they actually need, so these can then be either banked or sold to owners of relatively inefficient buildings. In this way the owners of all building types will have a long-term and predictable financial incentive to improve energy efficiency. Non-compliant building owners will face a shortfall penalty which in effect will act as a safety valve on the cost of the efficiency certificates.

The primary advantages of the scheme are that:

i. It is mandatory rather than voluntary for the building owner, thus leading to the systemic upgrade of all of Australia’s non-residential buildings. The scheme requires that many thousands of participants seriously apply themselves to the question of improving efficiency.

ii. It creates both incentives for action and penalties for inaction, in other words it can be characterised as a carrot and stick approach. By contrast a white certificate scheme (from the point of view of the building owner) is just a carrot approach.

iii. In addition to creating an incentive to upgrade a building itself, including heating and cooling solutions for example, the scheme also creates an incentive to reduce energy consumption by changing behaviour.

iv. The price signal created by the scheme is long term and predictable, increasing investment confidence.

v. It rewards early movers, advantaging those who have already undertaken improvements in energy efficiency.

vi. It requires the disclosure of energy and carbon performance information which in itself will improve the awareness of many building owners and tenants and motivate improvements especially when coupled with minimum standards for Government tenancy.

vii. It will stimulate the upgrade of inefficient buildings which will mean clean energy jobs

viii. It will also stimulate investment in innovative solutions - clean energy products and materials.

ix. And it will serve as a much needed building performance measure for building occupants

The Bill requires the Minister to prescribe a number of methodologies, including to measure energy and carbon performance; to manage situations where a building lacks sub-metering; and if necessary to provide for certificate banking and or a means to vary annual caps to account for annual climate variability.

On the question of measuring energy and carbon performance, there are main two schools of thought as to how to achieve this.

The original designers of the scheme have proposed a simple measurement and reporting process which would require building owners to determine the energy intensity for their building(s) based on electricity and gas bills, and official greenhouse gas coefficients, taking into account the buildings size and climatic location. An advantage of this would be the negligible cost of reporting.

Alternatively, others have submitted that one of the existing environmental reporting tools with a requirement for independent verification could be modified and improved to enable them to measure and report energy and carbon performance. This would add to the cost of reporting.

On the question of sub-metering, it’s important to understand that the scheme applies to the base building only. In other words only energy which is the responsibility of the landlord is relevant, not energy used by tenants.

Even in buildings with tenants, the majority of the energy used is the landlord’s responsibility. Typically this is energy used in heating and cooling, installed lighting etc. Tenant energy consumption is still important, however, and in the longer term phasing in mandatory reporting of energy performance and participation in the scheme for large tenants could be considered.

The Bill requires the Minister to develop a methodology to deal with typically older or regional buildings which lack sub-metering, thereby exposing the building owner to the entirety of the tenant’s energy consumption. It would be expected that the data collected over the transitional reporting period would inform the development of a rule to estimate the proportion of the total building’s energy consumption which is the building owner’s responsibility. This rule could expire in time to create an incentive to install sub-metering.

We believe some degree of certificate banking is appropriate, as is common in trading schemes generally, to provide participants some flexibility and to help smooth year on year market volatility. In this case, where demand for certificates will in part be determined by climate conditions, the extent of banking should be determined after the transitional reporting period.  If it were assessed that the effect of annual climate variability on the operation of the scheme was significant, it would also be feasible for the Minister to develop a methodology to apply a climate correction factor each year.

The Minister’s deliberations about the best and most cost-effective measurement and reporting tool, and other scheme design features would be assisted consultation with business and community in a Senate inquiry into this Bill.

Embracing energy efficiency across Australia

As I indicated at the beginning of this speech energy efficiency measures must be developed to apply to industrial facilities and all homes as well as the non residential sector.

The Greens remain committed to the substantial upgrade of the energy efficiency of all homes. The Greens’ Energy Efficiency Access and Savings Initiative, or EASI scheme, would:

  • organise a free energy audit by an accredited auditor;
  • advise householders of all efficiency opportunities with a payback period of ten years or less;
  • organise and pay the upfront costs of implementing cost-effective opportunities;
  • collect repayments as a proportion of savings on the home’s energy bills over a ten year period. Repayments will be less than the savings on energy bills so that no householders will ever be “out of pocket”.

Typical home energy efficiency refurbishments would include items such as ceiling, wall and floor insulation, solar hot water systems, efficient lights and shading of windows. This scheme needs to be complemented by new ambitious minimum standards for all new buildings and renovations as well as appliance standards.

The Greens are currently finalising plans for a new legislative scheme that would similarly drive systemic energy efficiency upgrades in the industrial sector.

Unlocking the obvious greenhouse abatement opportunities from our non-residential buildings provides a significant immediate solution to reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and creating new skills and employment opportunities.

This opportunity must be pursued as a matter of urgency.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Renewable Energy Amendment (Feed-in-Tariff for Electricity) Bill 2010

This bill was introduced by the Australian Greens in the 42nd Parliament. The following second reading speech reflects the debate at the time of the bill’s original introduction.

This is a Bill to amend the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 to establish a national feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme.

Climate change is a huge and urgent challenge to Australia and the world. With greater impacts and new science arriving almost daily, the task we face, to build a ‘post-carbon’ economy, is only getting more urgent.

We need to pull out all stops to build new, zero emission energy and transport infrastructure to replace the polluting coal and oil that we rely on today.

Renewable energy resources and technologies around the world are moving ahead in leaps and bounds, out-competing doomed and short-sighted attempts to clean up coal. Many technologies are mature and ready to roll out now, and some are even approaching the stage where they can compete directly with coal. A number of mature technologies are able to provide steady, baseload power, and a sensible mix of renewable energy technologies can match our demand and create a stable electricity grid.

While the reality is that renewable energy will not replace our entrenched coal power unless and until it is supported to do so, I have every confidence that, when given the appropriate support, it will do so swiftly and cost-effectively. International experience shows that implementing a feed-in law, alongside funding for research and development is one of the best ways of giving renewable energy the support it needs.

The scheme that would be established by the Bill I am introducing today will provide greater financial support for the commercialisation of a broad range of prospective renewable energy technologies, particularly those that are generally unsupported by the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET).

It is apparent that while the MRET has been successful in promoting the cheapest renewable energy technologies, especially wind and solar hot water, emerging technologies such as solar thermal, solar photovoltaic (PV), geothermal, wave power and others, receive either very little or ad-hoc support. This is a problem because these emerging technologies are useful complements to wind power, and in the long term may prove the most cost-effective renewable energy option. Those technologies best able to provide base-load generation, including solar thermal and geothermal, in particular, deserve Federal Government support.

Renewable energy feed-in tariffs have proved highly successful in many nations and recently have been introduced in South Australia, Victoria, the ACT, and will probably be soon introduced in Queensland.  However, this Bill would go further than the approaches recently taken by Australian states by:

1. allowing the Minister to a applying a feed-in tariff to any technology, not just solar photovoltaics;

2. ensuring that the feed-in tariff is applied to all renewable electricity generated, not just that component which exported onto the grid, which in the case of domestic PV systems may be negligible. The Victorian and South Australian feed-in tariff schemes are particularly weak in this regard;

3. establishing a national register which will yield valuable information about the effectiveness of the various renewable energy technologies supported; and,

4. creating a system whereby the owners of renewable energy systems make claims for the tariff directly to the regulator, thus simplifying the system from the point of view of electricity retailers.

To summarise, the scheme would operate as follows:

The Minister with responsibility for the scheme would set a feed-in-tariff rate for any of the sources of renewable energy technology listed in section 17 of the principle Act, each year. In doing so, Minister’s objective is to support the economic viability of electricity generation from a range of prospective renewable energy technologies. To achieve this, the Minister may vary FiT rates according to the type and location of qualifying generators. 

The owner of a ‘qualifying generators’ will receive a constant FiT for 20 years, set at the time that they register with the scheme, on all of the electricity that they produce. Only generators installed after the commencement of the scheme and which forgo participation in the mandatory renewable energy scheme can be a ‘qualifying generator’. In this way renewable energy produced due to the FiT scheme will be additional to renewable energy generated due the MRET scheme. The main reason for this is that the future income that owners of renewable energy generators may receive from the sale of Renewable Energy Certificates may be difficult to predict, thus complicating the Minister’s task of setting an appropriate long-term feed-in tariff rate.

The Minister must review the FiT rate applying to each renewable energy generator type each year - with adjusted rates applying to new installations. In order to provide a degree of certainty to manufactures and suppliers of renewable energy products, the Minister may increase the FiT rate, but can only decrease the rate it after a period of 5 years from the date that the rate was initially set, and then by a maximum of 10% per year.  An exception to this rule could occur if the Minister elects to set a target level of installed renewable energy capacity (for any particular technology), and that target is achieved, beyond which point the Minister may reduce the tariff if such a course of action is deemed desirable.

In order to fund the scheme the Minister must set a FiT levy rate per MWh of electric energy acquisition from the electricity grid. The FiT levy is to be imposed by a proposed Renewable Energy (Electricity) Feed-in-Tariff Levy Act 2008.  The FiT levy rate must be sufficient to cover the estimated cost of payments under the feed-in-tariff rate scheme.  The FiT levy would be payable by all electricity retailers and direct customers of electric energy from the grid, calculated by reference to their annual energy acquisition statements lodged under section 44. Note that the annual energy acquisition statement is also used to calculate the renewable energy shortfall charge of an electricity retailer or a direct customer.

With regards to the payment of feed-in-tariffs, an annual return by the owner of a qualifying generator must be lodged with the Regulator within 30 days of each anniversary of the registration of the qualifying generator. The Regulator must then pay the feed-in-tariff rate to the owner of a qualifying generator within 30 days of receiving from the owner an annual return in the prescribed form indicating the metered energy produced by the qualifying generator.

The Regulator must also establish a Register which records:

a. details of all qualifying generators, including the name and address of the owner of the generator, the date of registration of the generator and the type of generator (that is, the eligible renewable energy source used by the generator); and

b. the total amount of electricity produced by each qualifying generator; and

c. the feed-in-tariff rate to be paid to the owner of a registered qualifying generator and the period for which the feed-in-tariff rate will be paid.

Finally, in the interests of transparency and accountability, the Minister must also ensure that an independent report on the operation of the FiT scheme is prepared and tabled each year. The report must include details of total renewable energy produced and total payments made under the feed-in-tariff rate scheme, and the total receipts from the feed-in tariff levy. As well, the Minister must provide statements explaining how the feed-in-tariff rates and levy rates are calculated and must table those statements in both Houses of Parliament each year.

The urgency of climate change requires serious, systemic action to build a new post-carbon world. This Bill will take a significant step in that direction and I commend it to the Senate.

Senator MILNE —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.