By Julian Bajkowski
The Municipal Association of Victoria has called on the Abbott government to ring fence and guarantee federal funding already allocated for energy efficient upgrades to street lighting which the peak group says will save its ratepayers $340 million over the long term.
As the new federal government and Environment Minister Greg Hunt prepare to slash dozens of green schemes previously built on the foundation of the soon to be abolished Carbon Tax, councils are mounting a rear guard push to keep funding for infrastructure upgrades they say will cut their costs as well as carbon emissions.
The appeal by Victoria’s local governments is just one of many smaller battles set to be played out across the nation as councils grapple with how to unwind literally thousands of programs and spending measures once linked to the carbon economy that range from reducing landfill to solar power installations.
In many cases, local governments have already spent considerable money on carbon saving measures and started works programs in anticipation of a price on carbon being implemented.
Now, with little immediate indication from Canberra on the way forward, most local governments are privately admitting they are still largely in the dark about what will happen after the carbon tax is axed.
President of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), Bill McArthur, is adamant that local governments committing to a sustainable future of lower energy consumption is now part of “core business.” He cites the commitment of more than 80 per cent of councils to so called ‘green lighting’ as a case in point.
Core business is not an understatement given that most councils in Victoria have been quietly battling energy utilities in the state for years, especially over standards, to get less power hungry street lighting based on now mainstream technology like LED.
The rub for cash strapped councils across Australia has been that they have increasingly subsidised the sweating of inefficient lighting infrastructure by state-owned energy utilities that until recently held the whip hand in terms of forcing price hikes for power onto customers with nowhere else to go.
The MAV estimates that each street lamp that is changed to a more efficient model saves close to 70 per cent over an old lamp’s energy consumption – a figure that is a no-brainer in terms of expenses for councils.
Mr McArthur said councils have been purchasing thousands of approved energy efficient street lights through the MAV Procurement panel, following a competitive tender process conducted on behalf of 45 councils.
But he is now worried that federal measures to help local governments reduce their energy costs could be turned off.
“Forty-eight Victorian councils have sourced funding through the federal Community Energy Efficiency Program to transition to energy efficient street lighting, Mr McArthur said.
“We understand that all Victorian councils that were successful in their funding requests have signed agreements with the Australian Government. However, we call on the new Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt, to provide assurances to councils that these contracts will be honoured.”
The MAV is also clearly hoping that the financial benefits of energy saving infrastructure will appeal to Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt’s zeal for spending reductions far more than its previous ‘green’ marketing status.
“Energy efficient street lighting provides real savings and aligns with the government’s ‘Direct Action’ approach,” Mr McArthur said.
He also wants to help the new Prime Minister to work with the local government sector to achieve common goals.
“The election of a new Australian Government brings new opportunities and different thinking to reducing carbon emissions,” Mr McArthur said.
“We look forward to working with the new Government to find effective ways to tap into the local government sector’s drive and initiative in reducing energy use and carbon emissions,” he said.
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