The Greens want small businesses to ditch gas where possible and have proposed handing out cheques of up to $10,000 to help cover the cost of making the switch to electricity.
Unveiling a $500 million energy plan on Wednesday, Greens Energy Spokesperson Adam Bandt said his party will negotiate with the next federal government to get small business power prices down.
“Small businesses are now living through the cost of governments being in denial about climate change,” Bandt tells SmartCompany.
“When you have a policy focused on getting pollution down, but also getting prices down, everyone wins.”
In a speech to be delivered at a Council of Small Businesses of Australia (COSBOA) energy summit today, Bandt will propose spending $200 million on grants to help SMEs reduce their fossil fuel use, improve energy efficiency or switch from gas to clean energy.
The Greens will put the grants, which could be used for anything from solar panels to efficient lights, on the table in Senate negotiations alongside a proposal to revive the $200 million Clean Technology Innovation Program, axed by the Abbott government in 2012.
They will also push for a government loan program that would give small business access to low-interest, 10-year loans of up to $15,000 for the installation of battery storage systems.
The plan is to encourage SMEs to pull away from the gas market, which has come under scrutiny from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for allegedly pushing up domestic prices by over-exporting in recent years.
“Gas prices have gone through the roof because the gas industry has been all about export,” Bandt says.
Price hikes hit business
Rising gas prices saw SMEs pay $85 more in the 12 months to April last year and $70 more in the year to last October, according to Energy Consumers Australia research.
But those increases are dwarfed by a spike in electricity prices — which is a much bigger cost to begin with — increasing by an average of $610 nationally in the year to April before declining by $210 for the year to October.
Australian Energy Market Commission data has found SMEs paid an average of $3,731 last year just for electricity, with prices going up by as much as 36% in South Australia and 28% in NSW.
A recent COSBOA survey of 200 SME owners found 85% will struggle to absorb any future electricity price increases, while the ACCC warned earlier this month many manufacturers were at risk of closure due to high gas prices.
Wind and solar the future, Greens say
Bandt believes investing in renewables is the way forward and wants small business to jump onboard with the Greens’ plan to increase the supply of electricity in the market by doubling down on solar and wind.
“I understand that if you own a small business, these decisions around capital investment are absolutely critical,” Bandt will say today.
“I see my job as a policymaker as the identification of a problem, which are high gas prices and high capital costs for electric appliances, and delivering a policy solution to improve the economics of this purchase.”
Recent research conducted by CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator found while existing fossil-fuel power plants remain cost competitive, solar and wind generation are currently the cheapest way to increase supply by generating new power.
In addition to a grant and loan proposal, the Greens also want the next government to establish a publicly owned electricity retailer which would sell “cheap electricity” to small businesses as a not-for-profit entity.
The party will also pressure the next government to fund a free advice service for small businesses to help them make their operations more energy efficient.