16 August 2019

Energy efficiency scheme changes need to do more on insulation in rentals, community advocates say

| Ian Bushnell
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Only 55 per cent of Canberra households have inadequate ceiling insulation. File photo.

ACT community organisations have called on the ACT Government to require ceiling insulation in rental properties to complement recent changes to its Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme, announced on Thursday (15 August).

Under the expansion of the EEIS scheme, households can receive a rebate from their energy retailer to shift from ducted gas heating to energy-efficient electric heating.

The scheme has also opened up the option of retailers offering incentives for ceiling insulation as an efficient way to achieve energy efficiency benefits.

But community advocates say the changes are insufficient to improve the energy efficiency of private rental properties in the ACT.

Executive Director of the Conservation Council ACT Region, Helen Oakey welcomed the changes to activities included in the scheme, but said stronger policies were required to ensure that more Canberra houses
were insulated.

She believes that including insulation was common sense but rental properties often weren’t well insulated.

“While we hope that ActewAGL moves quickly to make insulation available via the scheme, it’s also going to be important for the ACT Government to require landlords to at least install ceiling insulation as a basic requirement of a liveable house in Canberra.”

Executive Director of Better Renting, Joel Dignam said the Government should act to enable renters to experience the health benefits of energy efficiency.

“Rental properties in the ACT are much less likely to have ceiling insulation, so this rebate is a good step. Ceiling insulation can make a huge difference for people who rent, cutting their power bills and helping them to have a healthier home,” he said.

“However, the risk is that private renters will pay for this scheme through their power bills, but be locked out of the benefits due to being at the mercy of their landlords when it comes to accessing the rebates.

“Past experience of the EEIS and other programs suggests that landlords do not voluntarily take up opportunities to improve their properties. To complement the rebates, the ACT Government should require landlords to ensure their properties are adequately insulated.”

Executive Director of ACTCOSS, Susan Helyar said that private renters were being forced to make cost of living compromises due to high power bills.

“Energy prices in the ACT over the past two years have risen well above the national rate, with electricity prices rising by 11 per cent over the past year,” she said.

“Fuel and energy costs account for around 12 per cent of income in the lowest-income households compared to around just 4 per cent of income in the highest-income households.

“We hear about people cutting back spending on food, prescriptions and school excursions to avoid going into debt on their energy bills.”

She welcomed the expansion the EEIS offers to people living in public housing and ACTCOSS also wanted to see increased energy efficiency standards for rental housing so that quality improved.

“Access to no-interest loans would also help owner occupiers who do not have access to the capital required to access the incentives in the EEIS scheme,” she said.

Changes to the scheme include new rebates of up to $5000 from ActewAGL to encourage households to replace their central ducted gas heater with more efficient central electric reverse cycle air conditioner.

In 2020, electricity retailers must ensure that at least 1 in 3 Canberra households taking part in the EEIS are low-income households, ensuring that around 400 additional low-income households will benefit from energy efficiency measures.

The Government says the EEIS has so far supported some 19,000 low income priority households and 16,000 rental properties to achieve greater energy efficiency.

The scheme will also be extended to enable the Government to explore innovative initiatives in the transport sector in the future, such as incentives for zero emissions vehicles.

The Government says it is estimated that only 55 per cent of Canberra households have inadequate ceiling insulation. New energy efficiency activities, such as residential insulation and business heating and cooling will also be introduced in the scheme to expand the options available for electricity retailers to offer to ACT’s households and businesses.

It says the new insulation activities are designed to be safe and effective and are closely aligned with similar programs in other jurisdictions.


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