Monday, 11 September 2023
Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023; Second Reading
I rise to make my contribution to the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023. The Albanese Labor government have made it clear that our priority is helping Australians with the cost of living. One way we have done this is to ease the cost of energy. We know that energy bills are putting a strain on Australian businesses and households. Too many people continue to pay for energy that is leaking out of buildings and from inefficient appliances. In the short term this government is delivering up to $500 in energy bill relief for eligible households, and up to $650 for eligible small business. But this government is also able to act decisively in the long term as well, by laying the framework for the transition to a cleaner and more energy efficient economy.
The Albanese government wants to give families the tools, the information and the access to the cheap financing they need to take control of their energy bills and to choose effective upgrades for their homes and businesses, all while lowering emissions. In the most recent budget, this government made it clear that we are investing in the future and we are investing in Australians. We are investing in our energy-saving plans to make homes and businesses and social housing more energy efficient and to drive down energy costs. We're investing $1.3 billion to establish the Household Energy Upgrades Fund to turbocharge financing options for energy upgrades for more than 110,000 households. We are investing in partnerships with states and territories to support energy upgrades for 60,000 social housing properties, and investing over $300 million in the Small Business Energy Incentive to help 3.8 million small and medium businesses. These businesses will have an additional 20 per cent deduction on spending that supports electrification and more efficient use of energy.
We are investing over $36 million to expand and upgrade the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme to apply to existing homes. This will give Australian consumers the power to seek a home energy rating so that they can be informed and able to make choices in their best financial interests for energy upgrades for renting and purchasing homes. This funding will also expand and modernise greenhouse energy minimum standards so that more appliances are covered by energy efficient ratings.
That brings me to this bill and to the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act, known as the GEMS Act. It was a Labor government that made this legislation, which sets minimum energy performance standards and energy labelling requirements for products and appliances. Like many commonsense Labor policies it has endured, and it has been Australians who have reaped the rewards of the government's foresight at that time. For the decade it has operated it has saved the average Australian household between $140 and $220 on their electricity bill each year.
In 2021-22, Labor's energy standards are estimated to have saved Australian households and businesses between 1.3 and 2 billion in avoided energy costs. They were estimated to have delivered an emissions savings of between 4.1 and 6.3 million tonnes in 2021-22, about one-quarter of South Australia's annual emissions.
While it is a shame that the following government was unable to build on the work that had been done, it is a credit to the previous Labor government that was able to craft legislation that has continued to benefit Australians for over 10 years, and today this Labor government seeks to add to and improve upon that Labor legacy. This bill will implement technical changes arising from an independent review of the GEMS Act undertaken in 2019. The review's overall assessment was that reform is required to modernise the act to reflect changes in the energy operating environment, to build on the already significant outcomes of this successful program. The government is prepared to implement these recommendations and make a good act even better. This bill will be acting on key review recommendations 13, 18 and 33, and is the first phase of a raft of amendments that will further enhance the GEMS Act. This bill will reduce administrative burden for products. It will streamline the application of test standards and the granting of exemptions. It will reform grandfathering provisions and grant powers to the regulator regarding the payment of fees.
Part 1 of the bill will amend the act to provide flexibility for the suppliers of customised products in complying with the act by refining registration requirements for such products. Part 2 of schedule 1 to the bill will provide greater flexibility for how suppliers of GEMS products can demonstrate compliance with GEMS determinations. Suppliers often apply for an exemption from being subject to GEMS determination ahead of a GEMS determination coming into force, as they have identified potential issues with meeting the new requirements and want certainty as to how their product will be dealt ahead of time. Part 3 of the bill will improve the timeliness of these exemptions during the transition to new requirements and will allow exemptions to be more targeted.
Part 4 of the bill will provide greater flexibility in defining product classes to ensure effective descriptions of product classes in GEMS determinations. This will assist with regulation of certain subsets of models identified by the regulator as being difficult to administer—for example, products like motors which may be supplied with other equipment. Part 5 of the bill will allow certain other requirements to be made under determinations which have labelling requirements but do not set minimum standards for energy use. Part 6 of the bill will amend the act so that the GEMS Regulator's position can be occupied by a person acting as an SES employee that references to the GEMS Regulator and refers to the substantive or acting SES employee in that position. This will improve the timeliness, efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the act when the substantive GEMS Regulator is absent from duty or when long-term acting arrangements are in place. The bill will also modernise references to the GEMS Regulator in the act to align with best-practice drafting standards and also extend the grandfathering exemptions from the prohibitions on supplying or offering to supply a model of product that is not registered. Part 8 of the bill will give the regulator the power to extend the time to pay application fees that would otherwise be payable.
The GEMS Act is one tool in this government's apparatus that finds smart ways to manage demand not just to use less electricity but to use it when it is cheapest and cleanest. It is all part of the National Energy Transformation Partnership. For the first time ever there is an agreed national plan between states, territories and the Commonwealth to support Australians through this nation's massive energy transformation. The updated GEMS Act will be part of that process by helping to make homes and appliances more energy efficient. It will also deliver the National Energy Performance Strategy. This provides a framework of supporting policies through which the government provides clear guidance on longer-term direction for energy performances. It will build on existing energy efficiency policies already in place to improve energy affordability, such as through the trajectory for low-energy building. Further improvement to the regulation of energy performance standards are being considered as part of the development of the National Energy Performance Strategy.
The government has hit the ground running when it comes to shifting our energy economy from clinging to the past to embracing our future. We have struck the balance early between delivering for our nation's sustainability and delivering for households and businesses. We act sensibly and responsibly to the global pressures affecting the cost of living, and we recognise that we can streamline and enhance existing legislation to make the energy transition a smooth and stable one. I commend the bill to the House.
The rising cost of living means people across the country are doing it tough, and energy bills are a big contributor. After a decade of energy policy failure we have been left overly dependent on expensive coal, gas and imported foreign oil, and Australians are paying the price, with one in 10 people skipping meals to pay their energy bills. Luckily, one of the biggest levers available to reduce the cost of living is close to home. Transitioning households and businesses away from expensive and inefficient fossil fuel appliances and towards cheaper and more efficient electrical alternatives is a $300 billion opportunity to permanently reduce our power bills.
Minimum standards really matter for this transition to cleaner, cheaper energy. They matter when you're buying a property, when you're a renter, in the office and in the factory because our power bills and our carbon emissions are driven by the energy we use from the appliances in our homes and in our businesses. Because these appliances can be quite expensive, we don't tend to buy them very often, so the choices we make when we do, when we decide to buy a new fridge for our home or an air conditioner for our business, lock in energy costs and carbon emissions for several years to come. The role of minimum standards and of product labelling is to help consumers make the best choice for their hip pocket and the planet. They can steer us towards buying appliances that use less energy and so are less costly to run, and they can prevent us from buying old and inefficient models which might have a good-looking price tag but will hurt us in the long run.
By setting minimum standards and labelling requirements for small and large energy-consuming items, the GEMS Act has played an important role in bringing power bills down for Australian homes and businesses. Indeed the current provisions in the act are estimated to save the average household between $140 and $220 per year on their electricity bill. This legislation strengthens the GEMS Act further by improving the flexibility of administration and making compliance easier for business, but there remains more work to be done. The 2019 independent review of the GEMS Act, conducted by Anna Collyer, now chair of the AEMC, made 40 recommendations on how the regime could be improved, eight of which require legislative change. This bill implements just two of the legislative recommendations, which means important gaps remain, and I want to speak briefly to two of those gaps.
The first gap relates to the scope of products covered by minimum standards and labelling requirements. Energy Consumers Australia estimate our current requirements cover only around half of the products of comparable countries. This means we have a big untapped opportunity to further reduce household power bills and emissions by expanding the scope of the GEMS regime further. If peer countries can do this, so can Australia. I want to echo calls from Energy Consumers Australia, the Energy Efficiency Council and the Smart Energy Council to expand the coverage of the GEMS Act at the earliest available opportunity.
The second gap is the lack of mandatory demand-response provisions under the GEMS Act. As AEMO's report highlighted the other week, Australia faces real challenges when it comes to the pace of our transition and to the reliability of our energy supply. Coal plants are ageing and unreliable, gas remains expensive and we haven't done enough to get new, cheaper renewable projects on line. AEMO's report also highlights that distributed energy resources and demand response are big opportunities to address these challenges. If we can shift electricity to better balance supply and demand, we can deliver lower power prices and more reliable electricity supply. Demand response can lower the amount of electricity required from the grid during peak periods, reducing the likelihood of a blackout. It can shift demand to off-peak periods, or when renewable energy output is high, so that we use excess electricity more efficiently, and it can even help bring down wholesale electricity prices, which increase when demand is high.
The minimum standards that apply to our largest electrical appliances will determine whether we can use demand response or not. At the moment, there is no mandatory demand response provisions in the GEMS Act. This means we have a big untapped opportunity. For example, industry estimates suggest that demand responsive air-conditioners in New South Wales have more capacity than two coal-fired power stations combined. Rather than use taxpayers' money to bail out another ageing and unreliable coal plant, it makes sense to take advantage of the demand response opportunity. This was an important recommendation of the 2019 independent review and needs to be progressed with urgency.
Also, though it's outside the scope of this bill, I urge the government to go further in household electrification and support for households to do this because this is good for the environment and good for households who are hurting so badly at the moment. The government has the opportunity to be a much stronger leader in this space. The government has the opportunity to ensure that new houses do not have gas connections, because we know that pumping fossil fuels into new houses doesn't make sense now and will not make sense in the future. We know that the government could go further and should go further in ensuring that there are strong financial incentives for households to move on to efficient electrical appliances. We know that the government should support a one-stop shop so that consumers and households across the spectrum—from renters in a 100-apartment block, to people who own their own home—know what steps they need to take and have a practical, well-informed and clear evidence base for their finances, in terms of how to step out of fossil fuels and into clean energy.
Finally, the government can increase standards across the board to ensure that renters, in particular, get homes and households that are energy efficient. The government needs to be more ambitious now. We can make a bigger difference right now, and that will make a difference to people's lives but also support this transition when it is so difficult to get the transmission right across poles and wires.
I know the minister and assistant minister are committed to further strengthening the GEMS regime. I welcome the commitments made in the May budget and the assistant minister's second reading speech, and I look forward to the upcoming publication of the National Energy Performance Strategy. These are important initiatives, and I commend the government for them. I also welcome the very constructive discussions that other members of the crossbench and I have had with the assistant minister over the last few days, both in relation to expanding the GEMS regime and to working through the details incorporating demand response into the act.
I rise to speak on the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill. The act that we are amending today has been around for just over a decade and was introduced by the Gillard government in 2012. Since its introduction it has proved to be instrumental in reducing emissions, particularly from Australian households. Research suggests that the average Australian family saves between $140 and $220 on their electricity bill each and every year as a result of the measures brought in through this bill. For Australian families facing cost-of-living pressures at the moment, reductions in costs like these are incredibly important. There is so much that can be done to reduce our power prices and our household emissions in one go.
Last week I was very fortunate to be able to visit the home of a constituent of mine, Martin de Domenico, in Curtin, along with the Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Senator Jenny McAllister, who spoke to Martin about the absolutely incredible renovation he had just finished in his home. Martin's home is one half of a duplex built in the 1960s. Before the renovation, his home was cold and very inefficient, with the warmth literally leaking out of the house. His home, pre renovation, had an energy efficiency rating of 3.4 stars. Today, his home is rated at a massive 7.2 stars, which is a huge transformation. It was achieved through some relatively simple changes, including the use of double glazing in the windows, the installation of PV solar panels, the use of insulation, and the electrification of the hot water system, of heating and cooling and of the stove. Martin's home is now snug and airtight. It has an air-leakage permeability rate a quarter of the average Canberra home. This wasn't achieved with any special construction materials or equipment, either. Standard residential construction materials and methodologies were used, which kept construction costs low and provided for excellent thermal bang for buck.
As Canberrans know, we face extreme weather in our city. We have, obviously, very cold winters, but it's quite hot in summer, so we can often rely heavily on air conditioning and heating, which brings up energy costs and the emissions from our homes. So making these changes is really important, both for our bank balance and for the environment.
Martin's home is now fully electric, and the gas meter has been decommissioned. The result of all this? While Martin's home is 29 per cent smaller than the average Canberra residence, it now consumes 68 per cent less energy than that same average.
I want to really thank Martin for inviting us into his home and to congratulate him and the architects and scientists at Light House Architecture and Science for their incredible achievement of winning the Housing Industry Association Australian GreenSmart Sustainable Home of the Year. From visiting his home, this seems very well deserved, because not only was it efficient—and we heard that he had cut his energy bills by 70 per cent—but his home was absolutely beautiful and comfortable. You could just feel that it was actually keeping warmer from the sun coming through the windows—simple things like that.
I can relate, just a little bit—not from having done such a beautiful renovation, but from also living in a 1960s Canberra home. When we moved in, we put some insulation in. It makes a huge difference and definitely does cut your power bills.
The Albanese Labor government is helping Australians to save on energy and save on their bills. We want to make every watt count and put downward pressure on every Australian's power bills while lowering their emissions, because we know that their energy bills are placing significant strain on Australian businesses and households. We also know that, after 10 years of inaction by the former government, Australians are paying for the energy that is literally leaking out of their front doors.
The Climate Council's 2023 Smarter energy use: how to cut energy bills and climate harm report found that combining electrification and practical efficiency upgrades could save an average Australian household $2,005 each year. And this is something that most Australians don't think about all that often. Most Australians know more about the performance of their washing machine or their fridge than they do about the performance of their home. That's why we're seeking to give families the tools they need to make their homes more comfortable and more affordable to run. This bill is just part of the effort to bring those savings to Australians.
I want to briefly touch on some of those other measures that are being introduced by our government. We are investing over $1.7 billion to help businesses and households, including those in social housing, to access energy savings and upgrades through the Save Energy, Save on Bills Package. The package makes energy performance upgrades, like those seen in Martin's home, more accessible and affordable.
Through the Household Energy Upgrades Fund, the Albanese government is investing $1 billion into Clean Energy Finance Corporation concessional loans and mortgages, through partnership with financial institutions, to incentivise household energy performance upgrades. These loans will help more than 110,000 households reach a net zero future and lower their energy bills. This could include upgrades to homes with battery-ready solar PV, better insulation and windows, and modern appliances.
Through the same fund, we're investing a further $300 million to support energy efficiency upgrades to public and social housing, in collaboration with states and territories. This funding will help Australians in social housing properties upgrade the energy performance of their homes. It's estimated that up to 60,000 social housing properties will save around 30 per cent on their energy consumption each year.
Through our decarbonisation boost, the Albanese government is investing $314 million to allow small and medium sized businesses to deduct an additional 20 per cent of the cost of assets that support decarbonisation. The bonus tax deduction will be available for up to $100,000 of total eligible expenditure, with the bonus tax deduction capped at $20,000. This will help up to 3.8 million small and medium sized businesses with ongoing energy savings in the financial year 2024-25. From 2025 the government's investment of almost $25 million into the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme will expand and upgrade the scheme to apply to existing homes, which means people will be able to seek a star rating of their home's energy performance. And, of course, the measures in this bill will expand and modernise the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act, known as the GEMS Act, to help Australian households and businesses save on bills and emissions.
The main purpose of the GEMS Act is to set minimum energy performance standards and energy labelling requirements for products and appliances. The GEMS Act currently regulates 24 products, setting minimum energy performance standards and energy labelling requirements for products and appliances. In 2021-22, labelling and standards are estimated to have saved Australian households and businesses between $1.3 billion and $2 billion in avoided energy costs. They were estimated to have delivered emissions savings of between 4.1 million tonnes and 6.3 million tonnes in 2021-22, about a quarter of South Australia's annual emissions.
The bill we're discussing today will implement technical changes arising from the 2019 independent review of the GEMS Act. The review found that reform was required to modernise the act to reflect changes in the energy operating environment and to build on the already significant outcomes of this successful program. The main provisions of this amendment bill will do a number of things: they will reduce the administrative burden for bespoke products; streamline the application of test standards and the granting of exemptions; reform grandfathering provisions; and grant powers to the regulator regarding the payment of fees. The government is also considering further improvements to the regulation of energy performance standards as part of the development of the National Energy Performance Strategy. This bill introduces a first phase of GEMS Act amendments targeted to streamline the implementation of the GEMS scheme and reduce unnecessary burden on our regulated community.
I want to address the specifics of what this legislation will achieve. Part 1 of the bill would amend the act to provide flexibility for suppliers of customised products in complying with the act by refining the registration requirements for such products. This part of the bill would implement recommendation 13 of the review.
Part 2 of schedule 1 of the bill would provide greater flexibility for how suppliers of GEMS products can demonstrate compliance with a GEMS determination. Suppliers often apply for an exemption from being subject to a GEMS determination ahead of a GEMS determination coming into force because they have identified potential issues with meeting the new requirements and want certainty as to how their product will be dealt with ahead of time. Part 3 would improve the timeliness of exemptions during the transition to new requirements and would allow exemptions to be more targeted.
Part 4 of the bill would provide greater flexibility in defining product classes to ensure effective descriptions of product classes in GEMS determinations. This will assist with regulation of certain subsets of models identified by the GEMS regulator as being difficult to administer, for example for products like motors, which may be supplied within other equipment.
Part 5 of the bill would allow certain 'other requirements' to be made under determinations which have labelling requirements but do not set minimum standards for energy use, and part 6 of the bill would amend the act so that the GEMS Regulator position can be occupied by a person acting as an SES employee and that references to the GEMS Regulator refer to the substantive acting SES employee in that position, as the case may be. This would improve the timeliness, efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the act when the substantive GEMS Regulator is absent from duty or when long-term acting arrangements are in place. It would also modernise references to the GEMS Regulator in the act to align with best practice drafting standards.
Part 7 of the bill would extend the grandfathering exemptions from the prohibition on supplying or offering to supply a model of a product that is not registered. The amendments of this part would also implement recommendation 18 of the review. Finally, part 8 of the bill would give the GEMS regulator the power to extend the time to pay application fees that would otherwise be payable.
I commend this bill to the House, and I'm very proud of the efforts that our government is taking to make it easier for Australian households to not only cut their emissions but cut their power bills. Nowhere is this more important than in a place like Canberra with extreme weather—cold winters and hot summers—and a lot of older housing stock that isn't as well insulated. There are lots of simple changes that these policies can help support you to make so you can cut your emissions and have a more comfortable home as well as cutting your power bills, as Martin did, by up to 70 per cent. The Albanese government is really focused on those two things—on the climate action we need and on helping Australians with the cost of living.
I rise to speak on a seemingly machinery-type bill about regulation and setting modern standards, but there are a few issues in here that raise an even deeper and broader problem. The Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023 on the surface proposes minor changes that allow all appliances that are running on energy in the modern world—from your computer through to your kettle, your air conditioner or your fridge—to have, with this new scheme, maybe different scales on the little rainbow of stars on white goods, or maybe descriptions of equipment as having a better carbon footprint. All in all, efficiency is always good, in appliances as well as in the economy, but there are a few terms that kept appearing in the second reading speech about demand and facilitating demand management as one side of our efforts to reduce energy costs. This feeds into some concerns about the Integrated System Plan AEMO's making, which the good minister in the corner is very familiar with and which we've spoken about before. Modernising and updating the GEMS Act will support the National Energy Transformation Partnership and support the delivery of the National Energy Performance Strategy.
On the middle of the second page of the second reading speech delivered in the Senate, it talks about, again, demand-side measures:
Demand-side measures including improving the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment supplied in Australia can support Australia's net zero target.
I thought I might just add a bit of an explanation about what demand-side management is. There is a demand-side management program that happens in big-scale energy consumption and use, where, when the energy system's running out of energy, they ring up places like an aluminium smelter and say, 'Can you turn off that potline, which uses huge amounts of energy.' They turn it off for 55 minutes, so it doesn't solidify and blow up the whole potline and cost $20 million or $30 million, and then they'll turn the electricity off to another potline.
Producers just like this, adjacent to the border of my electorate, have been doing that out of the goodness of their heart to keep our under-resourced grid alive. There were many times in the last couple of years where if they didn't do that to reduce their demand, potentially, the whole grid would have gone off. Now, under the current rules, they're getting paid for that, whereas they used to do it before because they were concerned about the whole grid.
Part of the plan for demand-side management in the brave new world of AEMO's Integrated System Plan is that this will feature highly. All these smart meters that are now going to be put out across the grid will be able to find out what appliances are drawing what and which households are drawing what, and there will be wi-fi enabled inverters that will potentially turn off equipment that is drawing too much, like induction cooktops or your air conditioner. They may also, as part of the demand-side management, draw down on your Tesla's big battery, if it's plugged into the grid at the time. This is all part of the virtual big battery that is at the heart of a big chunk of where the electricity is going to come from in the brave new world in this transition. People should be very wary because, if Tomago Aluminium smelter is getting paid for this, I think individuals could be paid, which, then again, leads to increased costs and increased complexity.
On the face of it, this bill is a good idea. You've got to have modern standards for everything. We do want to have efficient machines. But if it's a cover that says, 'We've got to get a system in place so we can start managing people's own energy inside their house and turning things off when there's a shortage,' there will be people who will be mightily disappointed. That aside, I think it is good that Australia is pushing for energy efficiency because it's good economics. But I am concerned about what the same plan, with its demand-side participation scheme baked into it, which most people are oblivious to—except for big units, which people have for years already been told to turn off so the grid doesn't collapse—means for mums and dads who will have to lose their power if it has got to be drawn back into the grid. That would be a different response altogether. The best thing would be to have much greater generating capacity in our grid now. There are talks of drawdown and shortages during very hot weather. But, in the brave new plan where we're going to have most of our energy dependant on good weather and favourable winds, there are plenty of times when this demand-side participation will eventuate in order to keep the grid alive; otherwise we'll have total grid collapse. So you've got to understand that, in this new plan, your batteries in your car, if it's plugged in at the time, or your household batteries might be reversing the flow back into the grid.
With that in mind, we need to get back to this bill. As I said, it's a machinery bill. We do have to be supportive of efficiencies, but people need to take it as a pointer to what might be coming down the line to their homes soon if we do have shortages—when you have an East Coast slow; when the whole weather pattern across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland is all rain. That's the fallacy of the idea that 'geographic distribution will reduce the risk of energy shortages'. The trouble is that the sun rises and sets within a couple of hours of each other, right up and down the eastern seaboard at the same time. So that means, every night, after dusk until well after dawn, all that excess energy that happens in the middle of the day is gone—lock, stock and barrel. Often when there's bad weather for solar generation, there's bad weather for wind generation. When these wind turbines work, they can only take and generate direct current when there's enough wind but not too much wind. They can't generate at all when there's no wind or low wind. And the weather has a horrible pattern of doing that over three or four months in Australia, when there are lots of low-wind events that go for 17-24 hours.
So we can have all the installed capacity of wind and solar, but, if we've got bad weather, their capacity factor drops to single figures or lower. There is not enough energy when you've got a weather-dependant generating system to both charge the batteries and operate the system, let alone keep one of the biggest, longest grids in the world intact. By all means, we've got to be efficient because we're going to have an energy shortage lots of times. So this is actually really important. But, in a perverse way, it would be much better to get some 24-hour, always spinning, always generating power stations back to being economic again, because at the moment they're falling over like tenpins because the business case for them has been eaten away by restrictive trade practices embedded in the National Electricity Market rules.
What's happening now in New South Wales, for instance? All of a sudden the light bulb's gone on, and they've realised that New South Wales could black out if Eraring, with 2½ thousand megawatts, is not available. Hey presto! How long did it take them to work that out? We are expecting miraculous amounts of energy to be storing the batteries, as well as running the system, being transmitted left, right and centre across the country, with wonderful, amazing, pop-up grids that take years to deliver and cost billions of dollars! But the plan is to let this massive power station close, like they did with Liddell.
Germany looked forward into the future and thought, 'We're going down the energy wind path and we will get rid of our power stations,' but they didn't blow them up. You can keep them, with care and maintenance. There is one old power plant amongst the 23 that has now fired up again, using brown coal, lignite and some black coal, from places like the Hunter Valley. It was built in the 1920s. They've kept it in reserve, through world wars, because they know cities, economies and nations run on energy, and, if you don't have energy, you don't have a modern industrial economy.
All those big cloud-computing data centres are huge users of energy. Around the world—I travelled to the UK and to America the year before, looking at things, meeting with Rolls-Royce, talking to think tanks in London—all these data centres are getting together. They're already planning their small modular reactors because they figure people have lost their senses and are overestimating the ability of renewables to keep grids and cities going through rain, frost, snow, tempests, storms, cyclones—you name it. They saw what happened when every solar panel in western Europe was covered with snow. Texas found out the hard way; they've had their blackouts. The New England network only survives out of the generosity of a nearby country—it's Canada—that has a bucketload of energy and lots of gas.
In California, they've had the same thing. All the technocrats, the IT billionaires and other people with electric cars are used to being told, 'There's this thing called demand-side participation, and we need you to not charge your Tesla, because we don't have enough energy.' They were going to close the Diablo Canyon Power Plant four or five years ago. All the people who were irrationally against nuclear, mainly for renewables, thought, 'Good riddance,' and it was planned that it would go. But Joe Biden turned up and gave them a grant to keep it open and also put another $4 billion or $5 billion around America to keep the nuclear plants going so they didn't have to have demand-side participation and have to tell people not to charge their Teslas. They decided to keep Diablo Canyon open. I think there are about 160 members in their state legislature, and I am reliably told by an energy professor that the vote was 157 to three. You know that woke centre of America, California? They voted 157 to three to keep Diablo Canyon going because they need it because they want energy that's available 365 days of the year.
Nuclear power is also good because you can get heat out of it that you can use to make hydrogen, that wonder thing that's going to be the cure-all. Nuclear power is great for energy storage—you know, that thing that we keep talking about? Well, instead of spending trillions of dollars on batteries every 10 or 15 years, you can have a couple of years of energy stored in one load of fuel in a nuclear plant. It's so dense and so thick. If you have a system with plenty of that, like France and like Ontario in Canada—they make a lot of money exporting electrons to the rest of Europe and to the rest of Canada, and they prop up the New England at other times.
The greenhouse and energy minimum standards amendment bill needs to come through because we're going to need every bit of help we can get. There will be energy shortages. The current federal government and, I would also add, the New South Wales, Queensland, Victorian and South Australian governments need to realise that we are going to have an energy shortage. We need to rethink our plan and allow the bans on nuclear to be removed.
I want to thank all honourable members for their contribution to this non-controversial but important bill, the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill, which makes changes to the GEMS Act. While minor, these amendments support the achievement of the objectives of the act by giving flexibility to help more energy-efficient products to be available in the Australian market. We need to be ready for our energy future, and what better way than to update the already significant program, which has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by between 40 and 60 megatonnes of CO2 and saved households and businesses between $11.8 billion and $17.8 billion over the course of it being in place?
To meet the government's net zero target, it will be important to enhance our demand-side measures, including improving the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment supplied in Australia. I note the interest of the members of the crossbench in including more categories of products within the purview of the act, particularly demand-response capabilities, which can provide grid-firming resources at low cost.
The bill implements a number of recommendations of the 2019 independent review of the act. Our government is working through the balance of the recommendations, including those relating to the scope of the act, as part of the development of the National Energy Performance Strategy.
I again thank all honourable members for their contribution. I do have to say, though, that I think the member for Lyne made an unfortunate contribution in scaremongering about demand-side responses. Demand-side responses put consumers in charge. Scaremongering—saying that people are going to come and turn your lights off and take control of the energy in your house—isn't a useful contribution to the debate. Many consumers are taking the opportunity themselves to put virtual power plants in so that they can maximise their activity within the grid. It's something I've done as well. Demand-side responses are about empowering people. There's a long-existing work program—which the honourable member was referring to, although he didn't name it—which has existed under governments of all persuasions. There were lack-of-reserve incidents in 2019 and 2017 under the previous government, which is when there is a very severe shortage. Of course, the RERT played a very big role in that circumstance, as well. Those were arrangements entered into with big industrial users that they agreed to comply with and participate in. This is something very different.
Electric vehicles have the opportunity to be batteries on wheels which can, in due course, feed back into grid if the consumer asks them to. The consumer is in control of when they charge and when they discharge into their house or into the grid. It's something which will be very important for stability, going forward. To scaremonger and say that somehow this will be a central command-and-control model is not a useful contribution to the debate. The honourable member for Lyne has just shown his party's disdain and disregard for renewable energy and their weird obsession with nuclear energy—the most expensive form of energy available. That's a debate I very much look forward to having in the lead-up to the next election. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.