By Keryn Curtis
Aged and community care providers should see Australia’s first carbon tax as an opportunity to think seriously about their energy use, according to energy efficiency and sustainability experts.
While a tax on the country’s 500 largest carbon emitters doesn’t directly affect health and aged care providers, like all sectors, the indirect impact will come from increased utility prices.
The Federal Government's set of bills to establish a carbon pricing scheme was passed by two votes in the lower house of Parliament yesterday and is expected to be easily passed when it reaches the Senate in the next month or so.
Gavin Gilchrist, Managing Director of energy efficiency group Big Switch Projects, which has performed energy reviews for a number of aged care facilities in Sydney and Adelaide, said the introduction of a carbon price from next financial year will make investing in energy efficiency improvements a much bigger priority for health and aged care providers.
Above: Gavin Gilchrist, Big Switch Projects
“The aged care sector doesn’t need reminding that power and gas bills are a significant expense, one that’s been rising much faster than most other costs for a range of reasons. Lights, air conditioning, hot water, and laundries all consume energy, and while the carbon price probably won’t lift energy bills itself as much as other factors have in recent years, it will bite.
“It’s hard to be specific, but we’d expect electricity prices to rise something like 20 or 30 per cent,” Mr Gilchrist said.
“But the fact is, energy has been very cheap in Australia, and so we’ve tended to waste it. Most aged care facilities will have many, many opportunities to cut their energy use through better lamps, advanced lighting controls, high efficiency hot water systems, building controls and better energy management policies,” he said.
“All of these things will generally improve the amenity and look of an aged care centre, too, as well as building the operator’s reputation as a good corporate citizen,” Mr Gilchrist said.
Principal and founder of Vim Sustainability, John Brodie, agrees that tackling energy efficiency makes sense, both environmentally and economically.
“The best way to begin is by undertaking an energy audit, and then work with your current systems to make the building as efficient as you can. In our business we say maximise your efficiencies before considering gadgets.”
“What’s the point when you see buildings with solar heaters on their roofs, but with all the lights blazing and air conditioners on with windows open?” he says.
“I think we need to change the emphasis away from selling the concept of ‘sustainability’ to selling the idea of ‘efficiency’ because everyone relates to the idea of saving money.”
Brodie says air conditioning is the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of any building and accounts for about 40 per cent of energy use in residential aged care.
Catholic Health Australia said in a statement this morning that it has received assurances from the Prime Minister's Office that there would be no adverse financial impact on Catholic hospitals or aged-care service providers under the new legislation. CHA was told that any additional costs would be offset by increases in the level of funding for hospital and aged care providers.
A feature article on improving energy efficiency in aged care is in the forthcoming November December issue of Australian Ageing Agenda.