Opposition Leader Bill Shorten after attending an event on the lawn on the roof of Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten after attending an event on the lawn on the roof of Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith

Shorten’s battery plan has a whiff of pink batts

When offered something for nothing, sensible souls would counsel caution as the preferred course.

When the offer comes from government, caution leavened with a generous dollop of cynicism is recommended, being mindful of former PM Paul Keating's observation that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

If, however, we are to take the word of federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten there is such a thing as a free battery. Well, not a whole battery but a bit of a battery, the reasoning being that a bit of a free battery is better than none at all.

Shorten's plan, should he ascend to a higher office, is to sling $2000 towards the cost of installing batteries in households earning less than $180,000, the better to store the energy created by all those incredibly ugly solar panels on the roof.

It's an opening bid and puts a price on how much Labor thinks it will cost to buy a vote at next year's federal election. Two thousand dollars? Any advance on $2000? Do I hear $2500?

Sadly, being one of the 2.3 million Australians who live in an apartment, I won't be able to take up the offer.

I'll just have to keep paying the higher electricity bills that will be an inevitable result of his declared policy of making the country's power generation grid 50 per cent dependent on renewable sources by 2030 by closing coal-fired power stations.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio with a Tesla home battery during a press conference in Melbourne last week. Picture: Alex Murray/AAP
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio with a Tesla home battery during a press conference in Melbourne last week. Picture: Alex Murray/AAP

No free lunch for me but, then, I will also be spared the cost of buying the battery and having my house wired to accommodate it. This cost is estimated at between $15,000 and $20,000. Anyone got a spare $20k lying around? I didn't think so.

Nor will I have to worry about the risk of the battery exploding or catching fire.

But surely there are strict rules governing their installation? I'm afraid not. There are currently no Standards Australia regulations for battery installations in homes.

Standards Australia drew up draft recommendations last year but the people who sell the batteries complained they were too harsh.

Standards Australia classed the batteries, which are lithium-ion, as a Fire Hazard Class 1 and ruled that they were not to be installed inside a domestic dwelling or under any part of a domestic dwelling.

To guarantee the safety of a household's occupants, the batteries would have to be housed in a 3 metre by 2 metre bunker-like box with eaves.

The battery industry hated this because it would push up the cost of battery installation. This would mean fewer people would install them and the industry players would make less money.

Shorten inspects a Lithium Battery Container on a visit to Energy Made Clean in Perth. Picture: Kym Smith
Shorten inspects a Lithium Battery Container on a visit to Energy Made Clean in Perth. Picture: Kym Smith

This was clearly an unacceptable outcome.

Standards Australia has now gone back to the drawing board and is expected to issue a new set of draft recommendations next year.

No prizes for guessing they will be less stringent and be designed to appease the sellers of batteries.

If this happens, you would wonder how something judged to be too dangerous to place inside a dwelling in 2018 can be judged to be perfectly safe in 2019.

In fairness Dong Lin, managing director of the company Alpha-ESS that sells batteries has been reported as saying "the risk is very minimal that (the units) will catch fire or explode".

Now that's reassuring.

Other industry players have claimed that most fires were the result of poorly trained installers using cheap products.

Free pink batts anyone?

As Ronald Reagan famously remarked: "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Mike O'Connor is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.