20 January 2020

Government needs to do more to snuff out gas, says Conservation Council

| Ian Bushnell
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Gas contributes to 22 per cent of the ACT’s greenhouse emissions. Photo: File.

The ACT Government’s proposal to remove the mandated requirement for gas connections in ACT’s new suburbs does not go far enough, according to the Conservation Council ACT Region.

The government has released Draft Variation 373 for public comment, which it says will allow new suburbs to be all electric, powered by the ACT’s 100 per cent renewable electricity supply.

But the Executive Director of the Conservation Council, Helen Oakey, has warned that this measure alone won’t necessarily result in less gas infrastructure being rolled out, and will have little or no impact on the ACT’s carbon emissions.

She said new connections should be banned, there should be a timetable for a transition to all-electric appliances and a full review of the ownership of the gas network.

“Removing the requirement to put gas into every new development is a positive step, but the government will miss a great opportunity to prevent the further rollout of the gas network in the ACT going forward, something that would be consistent with their ambitious 2045 zero emissions target,” Ms Oakey said.

“We know from previous experience that removing the mandate alone won’t necessarily stop Evoenergy from proceeding with the rollout of new pipes into suburbs.”

She said that when the Ginninderry development in West Belconnen was given an exemption from the requirement to have gas infrastructure, Evoenergy rolled out new pipes despite the intention of the developer to have a more environmentally friendly “electric only” suburb.

“Unlike electricity, the cost of gas infrastructure is not passed on to developers, and so there is little incentive for developers to say ‘no’ to pipes being installed. Until this changes, the default setting will mean expensive gas infrastructure, which all gas users inevitably pay for, will continue to be installed,” Ms Oakey said.

Air conditioning

There are incentives to drop gas heating and take up electric reverse cycle air conditioning. Photo: File.

She said that the ACT Government had missed a perfect opportunity to take action to ensure that all new developments will run on 100 per cent renewable electricity and make it easier to reach its zero emissions target.

“Gas is a polluting fossil fuel and contributes to 22 per cent of the ACT’s greenhouse emissions. We think it’s time that suburbs, such as Whitlam in Molonglo where development has only just commenced, should be all-electric, and run on 100 per cent renewables,” she said.

“It’s a better outcome for the environment and will also deliver cheaper energy bills for householders.”

The Conservation Council wants to the Government to urgently set a clear timetable for transitioning from natural gas to ensure homeowners, suppliers, tradespeople, developers and managers of medium-large gas-run appliances are given fair warning to ensure any appliance upgrades are all-electric.

It should also stop newly built residences in established suburbs from installing gas appliances and reconnecting to the gas network, and disallow gas connections in new multi-unit developments.

Residences in established suburbs should be supported to replace ageing gas appliances with energy-efficient electric appliances over the next 10 years.

The Council said the government should undertake a full review of the ownership of the gas network, the costs of writing down the network asset, if needed, and how the costs would be shared equitably across the community without disadvantaging those who were least able to afford it.

Minister for Climate Shane Rattenbury said DV373 was intended to be part of broad signal the ACT Government was sending to both the community and industry that the ACT needed to make an orderly transition away from gas.

He said it was now cheaper to use electric appliances than gas and there had already been a consumer shift in that direction.

The government is encouraging households to make the shift away from gas, for example, through the Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme for low-income earners, and ActewAGL offers rebates for replacing gas heaters with reverse cycle air conditioners.

Comments on DV373 can be made until 6 March 2020. The draft variation documents can be found on the EPSDD website www.act.gov.au/draftvariations.

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