Allegra Spender, Renew Economy: Clean Energy News and Analysis -
Families need one stop shop, and budget support, to kick fossil fuels out of home
Earlier this week, families across Australia’s discovered the true cost of the fossil fuel prices crisis.
The Australian Energy Regulator says electricity prices are set to rise by around a quarter across the eastern states, with similar increases for small businesses. Young people, renters, and low incomes families will be worst affected.
The government’s efforts to address these price spikes have been modest.
These price increases – caused by our dependence on expensive and globally volatile fossil fuels – would certainly have been worse if parliament had not intervened to cap domestic coal and gas prices, and government investment in transmission and dispatchable renewable capacity is welcome. But after a decade of energy and climate policy inaction, there’s so much more to do.
On the other side of politics, credibility and good ideas are completely absent. The Coalition seems caught between chasing the nuclear unicorn, and backing in major new gas projects that would largely serve the export market, be subject to the same global price spikes, and wouldn’t come online in the near term.
To permanently reduce our power bills, and ensure security in energy supply, electrifying Australian households must be our energy policy priority.
Analysis by Rewiring Australia shows that by switching out expensive gas appliances for electrical alternatives, and installing rooftop solar, the average household could save around $3,500 a year on their power and gas bills.
This is because modern electrical appliances are much more efficient than their gas counterparts, and Australia’s abundant sunshine means rooftop solar is the cheapest home energy available in the world.
Unlike the fabled ‘small modular nuclear reactors,’ the technologies we need to electrify our homes are available today – and getting cheaper all the time. As an added bonus, electrification will cut our carbon emissions at the same time as our power bills. It’s a win-win.
While politicians have been slow to recognise the opportunity, families across Australia are taking action. More than 500 people in my community turned-up to learn about electrification at Wentworth’s inaugural climate summit last November, and volunteers in the Wollongong suburb of Austinmer are attempting to electrify every household in their postcode as part of the Electrify 2515 project.
Who can blame them? This opportunity to permanently reduce your power bills and go zero emissions from household energy and transport is too good to miss.
But households can’t do it alone. While the savings from electrification are substantial, up-front costs remain a barrier for many. Outside of rooftop solar, understanding of the opportunity among households, businesses, and tradies is still mixed.
For those in apartments, a range of regulatory barriers create unwanted frictions. And for the three million Australian households that rent, market incentives for landlords to upgrade properties are lacking.
These challenges are not unique to Australia, and overseas governments are taking decisive action. In the US, the landmark Inflation Reduction Act provides around $US10,600 to each American household to electrify, and the European Union is heading in a similar direction through its REPowerEU plan.
If the government is serious about cost-of-living relief – and if it’s serious about accelerating emissions reduction – a bold plan to electrify Australian households is essential to May’s budget. This should include three key components.
First, we need means-tested support for households to electrify. Concessionary finance, rebates, and tax incentives will help households get over the up-front costs of electrification upgrades and drive down inflation by permanently reducing power bills. It’s a much better way to spend taxpayers’ money than cash hand-outs that simply find their way back to fossil fuel companies’ bottom line.
Second, we need targeted assistance for renters and people living in apartments. The government’s ‘Community Solar Banks’ scheme tries to do this, but it relies on more expensive grid-connected projects that have a longer time horizon to implement.
We need to see the scheme’s mandate expanded so that community housing providers and those in privately-owned apartment buildings can get support to put solar on their roof – a cheaper and quicker alternative.
We also need a broader program of work to break the barriers preventing renters from accessing the electrification opportunity. This includes developing a national regulatory framework to share power bill savings between landlords and tenants, where solar is installed on a rental property.
Finally, we need to make people aware of the electrification opportunity. That means funding a diverse range of electrification ‘pilots’ in communities across Australia and establishing a ‘one stop shop’ that gives families information on how to electrify, shows what the solar potential of their home could be, and provides a comprehensive list of government incentives that can help with the cost.
Allegra Spender is the independent federal member for Wentworth and former chair of Sydney Renewable Power Company