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Australian PM Offers a $1000 Rebate for Solar Hot Water Systems

John Howard has upped the ante in the battle for voters worried about climate change, offering a $1000 rebate for solar hot water systems that will slash residential electricity bills and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

In a day dominated by the political duel on environmental issues, the Prime Minister made his debut on the YouTube website with a 5am announcement that schools would receive funding for solar hot water systems and water tanks. Later, in a speech in Melbourne, he announced the $1000 rebate for householders who switch from electric hot water to solar and heat-pump hot water systems.

With the NSW Government also offering a rebate of up to $1200 from January 1 next year, householders will be able to buy solar hot water systems at a hefty discount. Energy Australia is also offering a rebate, as is at least one NSW council, Hornsby, which combined could reduce the cost to almost nothing. The federal rebate will be available to 225,000 households.

Mr Howard pronounced himself a climate change "optimist" who believed "human ingenuity" would solve the problem of global warming. He also outlined an emissions trading scheme that he said would cover three-quarters of total emissions, and include a "safety valve" fee to help business and industry meet the cost of joining the scheme.

The Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, accused Mr Howard of acting on climate change only because of the coming election. Labor also launched a campaign that accused the Prime Minister of being "asleep on climate change for the past 11 years". A provocative commercial, which started screening last night, shows an elderly man with bushy eyebrows asleep in bed.

The federal rebate was welcomed by environmentalists and energy experts, who said installing a solar system was the single most significant action a household could take to cut electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

"Electric hot water systems are the most greenhouse intensive way to heat water and they can be the most costly too," said an Energy Australia efficiency expert, Paul Myors. "When you turn on your electric hot water it is like turning on 200 televisions all at once."

Switching from electricity to solar could cut residential electricity consumption by about 25 per cent, and reduce household greenhouse emissions by two to three tonnes a year, he said.

If all of the Federal Government's $225 million was spent, that could save 8.25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over 15 years - the assumed life of a solar hot water system. That is the equivalent of taking 1.8 million cars off the road.

To be eligible for the federal rebate, householders must replace an existing electric hot water system at their principal residence and have taxable family income of less than $100,000.

An Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner, Tony Mohr, said the rebate was important for the solar hot water industry. Australia lags most of the world in its adoption of the 50-year-old technology, he said.

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