Bill Busters – campaigning for systemic change

Simple, energy saving technologies are not only good for renters, they are good for the whole country and planet because they reduce the energy demand which is driving up domestic energy prices, and greenhouse gas emissions, writes Jason Ray from Friends of the Earth Sydney.Bill Busters logo

Electricity prices in Australia have doubled in the last ten years, and are now some of the most  expensive in the world. This has come about through a combination of things including privatisation  and deregulation.

A lot of the energy debate in Australia has focused around the supply side of energy. However,  on the demand side, homeowners have been increasingly taking up solar and energy efficiency measures to save on electricity  bills and reduce their carbon footprint. Unfortunately tenants are usually excluded from energy efficiency home modifications used by owner-occupiers, which can  save an average of $1,000 per year on energy bills.

Bill Busters is a campaign by  Friends of the Earth (FOE) Sydney to ensure tenants have access to affordable and sustainable energy  in comfortable homes. FOE members and people we have spoken with have had numerous problems with their rental housing. Many of us run fans or air conditioning throughout the hot summer nights to cool down in homes that don’t even have flyscreens with natural ventilation.

In winter, tenants in public housing in Claymore have told us that it’s almost impossible to protect their kids from drafts that run through their homes due to gaps in doors and windows. People are forced to use cheap heaters, air conditioners and appliances to run their homes, but because the homes are badly designed and maintained it  becomes very difficult to run  them efficiently, and tenants are faced with huge electricity bills.

Our members have tried resorting to some pretty strange tactics, like putting bubble-wrap over windows to insulate homes in winter. One person tried to put sheets over his north facing windows in summer to reduce incoming heat that was roasting the house and his landlord came into his room when he was away to take them down.

There are little things that tenants can do around the home, without permission from landlords to save energy and we’ve got these up on our website at foe.org.au/tenantrights. These small things help, but we believe that the energy system and tenant housing in NSW needs a systematic change. This is why we’re campaigning for energy efficiency standards for all tenanted housing across the state. This will provide:

Tenant homes that are affordable and comfortable to live in through Australia’s temperature extremes.

Reduced strain on the national electricity supply at times of peak demand, when so many people are running air conditioning in hot-box houses.

Reduced greenhouse emissions  from coal fired power plants.

Improved homes for improved health outcomes. Recent research has shown 1 in 15 deaths in Australia come about through long term exposure to the cold. These deaths would be totally preventable if energy was more affordable and used in energy smart homes with simple things like insulation, draft sealing, & window coverings.

These changes can be won, as seen through the introduction of energy efficiency standards throughout the world in Europe, America and Canada. Even in NSW, water efficiency standards were effectively introduced in 2010, which means tenants don’t have to pay water bills in rental homes that don’t have basic water saving features. We believe we can and should do the same thing for energy.

If you would like to learn more,  or get involved in the campaign,  check out our website at: foe.org.au/sydney.