The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) says improving the energy efficiency of the federal government’s building portfolio could save Australian taxpayers more than $35 million a year.

“As the election campaign heats up, the GBCA is calling on all political parties to outline their policies to improve the energy efficiency, and cut the emissions and costs, of all federal government buildings,” said GBCA chief operating officer Robin Mellon.

“Improving the efficiency of existing buildings is one of the most cost-effective opportunities to reduce overheads and carbon emissions – and is one of the GBCA’s three policy priorities.”

The three-point plan developed by the GBCA calls for a more productive and sustainable built environment over the long term. The organisation is asking the federal government to to provide visionary government leadership, to retrofit and improve existing buildings and to move beyond buildings to communities and cities.

Reports show that the electricity used to power federal government facilities in 2011 and 2012 surpassed 6.2 million gigajoules, which generated approximately 1.67 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Based on these figures, the GBCA calculated the cost of this electricity at $205 per megawatt/hour, which amounts to an annual power bill of over $350 million.

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“The scale of the energy efficiency opportunity is significant. A modest 10 per cent improvement in energy efficiency would save more than $35 million per year in electricity costs and be equivalent to the electricity required to power 23,000 homes.  A 10 per cent improvement would also reduce carbon emissions by 167,000 tonnes – the same as taking 46,000 cars off the road,” Mellon said.

“We have solid evidence that Green Star-certified buildings across the country consume 66 per cent less energy and produce 62 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than average Australian buildings, so a 10 per cent improvement is entirely achievable.”

If the cost of energy continues to rise, the tax payer will pay even more. The price of electricity in 2023 is expected to reach $260 per megawatt/hour, meaning that if the Australian Government continues to consume electricity at the same rate as it did in 2011-12, the power bill in 2023 could be over $440 million.

“Clearly we cannot afford to spend $440 million a year simply to power our federal government buildings,” Mellon said. “This makes improving the energy efficiency of our government buildings a national priority. A commitment to improving these buildings is just one way the Australian Government can lead by example while saving taxpayer dollars.”

The Victorian Government was cited as an example to follow, since its actual energy efficiency plan is delivering reductions in energy use of 40 to 50 per cent, which could save as much as $2 billion over 20 years. In addition, the Victorian Government is committed to a minimum of 5 Star Green Star and 5 Star NABERS Energy-rated office spaces for new leases, helping to deliver energy and water cost savings as well as more productive working environments for the cities.

Australian Parliament House Canberra

“A commitment to using the Green Star – Performance rating tool for all government-owned, operated and occupied buildings will help the incoming government to benchmark the performance of all building types and identify opportunities for incremental improvement,” Mellon said.

“As The Climate Institute’s recent ‘Boosting Australia’s Energy Productivity’ research points out, Australia’s poor investment in energy efficiency is costing the nation tens of billions of dollars in economic growth. A symbolic and significant commitment towards great efficiency would be achieving a Green Star – Performance rating for Parliament House.”