Lower power bills? There’s now a grant for that – but there’s a catch

power bill relief

Energy Minister Angus Taylor. Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Grants up to $20,000 are now available for small business owners looking to improve their energy efficiency, under a federal government plan aimed at reducing power bills.

Launched today, the latest prong of the Morrison government’s Energy Efficient Communities Program sets aside $9.06 million to help small businesses invest in more energy efficient equipment, process and monitoring tools.

Businesses with up to $10 million in annual turnover will be eligible for the program, which was opened for dairy farmers several weeks ago.

Grants will range from $5,000 to $20,000, which means between 438 and 1,803 businesses stand to benefit from the program.

Small business minister Michaelia Cash and energy minister Angus Taylor announced the grant program in a joint statement on Sunday, saying in various ways that the grants would help SMEs recover from COVID-19.

“As small businesses come out of COVID-19 hibernation, we want to help them lower their power bills so they can spend money on more important aspects of their business, or expand and employ more people,”  Taylor said.

But while the government has spruiked the grants as a coronavirus recovery measure, there’s a pretty big catch: the grants are limited to three per electorate.

This means businesses in densely populated areas, such as Melbourne and Sydney, will have to compete with thousands of other firms for spots, while those in less dense regional areas will have comparatively less competition.

This electorate limit appears not to have been applied to the dairy farmer version of the program, which also has a higher total spending cap of $10 million.

Council of Small Businesses of Australia (COSBOA) chief executive Peter Strong says the federal government is worried about criticism in the wake of the “sports rorts” pork barrelling scandal.

“They’re just afraid of the sports rorts stuff,” Strong says.

“Logically you’d say you’re going to have more businesses in some areas impacted than people in others.”

As far as eligible projects go, the government has spotlighted the following types of investments as appropriate:

  • Replacing existing equipment with higher efficiency equipment;
  • Installing or replacing a component(s) to help an existing system run more efficiently;
  • Carrying out on-farm energy audits; and
  • Carrying out monitoring of energy usage and emissions.

The Energy Efficient Communities Program was unveiled in the 2019 budget alongside several other measures aimed at improving the operation of the retail electricity market, including a default retail price and price comparison tools.

Grant applications close August 26, businesses can apply here.

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