Tackling Energy Poverty – a Policy and Program Response

The Tackling Energy Poverty – a Policy and Program Response stream at MEFL’s Spark! 2018 Conference discussed the practical and policy solutions that are needed to address the growing issue of energy poverty.

The stream featured the expertise of:

  • Matthew Soeberg, Manager of the Sustainable Homes team at Sustainability Victoria
  • Tracey Cooper, President of the Valley Centre
  • Denise Boyd, Director of Policy & Campaigns at the Consumer Action Law Centre
  • Lucy Allinson, Project Manager at the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Facilitator Anne Martinelli from Environment Victoria.

The stream began with an overview from the State Government on how they were responding to the issue of energy poverty. Matthew Soeberg from Sustainability Victoria began with a showcase of the innovative Healthy Homes project, a program led by Sustainability Victoria in association with the Moreland Energy Foundation and University of Technology Sydney. The program is a randomised controlled trial, designed to better understand the combined health and energy outcomes of household energy efficiency retrofit programs targeted at vulnerable householders.

Even though, we anecdotally may be aware of the impacts of poor housing stock on health, there is currently no high quality, local data available demonstrating this link. As such, a key aim of the Healthy Homes program is to create the high quality data that are valued by policy makers and can lead to improved outcomes for vulnerable households.

Lucy Allinson from the Department of Health and Human Services followed Matt by providing an overview of EnergySmart, a program designed to:

  • Deliver savings in energy costs and improvements in thermal comfort for public housing tenants
  • Contribute to the knowledge regarding the current energy efficiency of the Victorian public housing stock and drive ongoing standards
  • Limit greenhouse gas emissions arising from energy use in Victorian public housing
  • Support climate change adaptation in Victorian public housing

The program involves hot water system upgrades and thermal shell upgrades for 650 homes, and heating system upgrades for 200 homes in public housing. Despite the large scale nature of the program, she highlighted that it was vital that any program that works with vulnerable households is tailored and addresses the differing needs of participants.

Tracey Cooper from the Valley Centre described just how particularly vulnerable remote indigenous communities were. She told a story of how one family in the North West region of New South Wales was facing a household energy debt of $20,000. By partnering with not-for-profit organisations, the Valley Centre has been able to assist with a no-interest loan fund, allowing the community members to repay the bills in $10 per month instalments.

Finally, Denise Boyd from the Consumer Action Law Centre, illustrated just how widespread this issue was in Australia – over 50% of all calls received by the Consumer Action Law Centre in 2017-18 were related to energy debts and disconnection.

To remind us of the importance of this issue, she said:

“Lack of access to affordable energy is a quality of life issue – it’s not just about energy bills”, Denise Boyd, Consumer Action Law Centre

Thank you to our speakers for sharing their expertise. MEFL is proud to be working with both the Department of Health and Human Services and Sustainability Victoria in supporting the EnergySmart and Healthy Homes programs.

Read more about this issue with our thought leadership piece on Energy Justice.

For more information on the other streams, please visit our Spark! 2018 page.