The ACT is taking steps to pave the way for the rise of all-electric, gas-free suburbs, as part of the next step in its nation-leading push for 100 per cent renewable energy.
In an announcement published last week, the ACT government said it had proposed a change to the Territory law that mandates the delivery of gas to all new housing developments, as an essential service.
Draft Variation 356, which opened for consultation on Monday May 07, seeks to make the provision of gas utility services to optional rather than a mandatory requirement, at a new housing development in the West Belconnen region.
That project, which broke ground in April, is trialling a 350-home gas-free precinct – a joint venture between the government and local landowners, mostly farmers – as part of Ginninderry Estate, a new suburb being developed by Riverview Group.
As we reported at the time of the project’s launch in February, the move to shift away from gas is one of the final frontiers for the ACT, which is well on track to achieve the equivalent of 100 per cent renewable energy for its electricity supply by 2020.
Originally, the ACT government gave Riverview Group a temporary waiver from compulsory gas connection for Ginninderry – which in itself prompted a fierce kick-back from the gas industry.
But in a speech to Australian Energy Week in Melbourne last week, ACT minister for climate and sustainability, Shane Rattenbury, said the government was seeking a more permanent change to the law.
“One of the quirks of the ACT is that our planing rules mandate that there must be gas delivered as an essential service to all new suburbs,” he said on Friday.
“I think we’re the only jurisdiction in Australia that mandates that.
“Interestingly, one of our developers has just come forward and said they want to do an all-electric suburb.
“They have made the case that households will be better off.
“The upfront costs are about $5000 extra to build a household, but the payback period on that is three to four years.
“And then they estimate households could save up to $1600 a year in energy bills, going forward.
“So we have just changed the planning laws to enable that, which has … caused some ripples with our gas supplier, it’d be fair to say, but I think it’s an important policy development.”
The ground-breaking Ginninderry development swaps out gas and makes rooftop solar and smart meters mandatory instead in a residential precinct in stage 1 of the suburb.
And instead of gas appliances, the houses will be equipped with efficient electric heating and cooling, and induction cooktops.
ACT minister for planning and land management Mick Gentleman said in a statement that the proposed changes to the law would allow the pilot project to assess whether they were efficient and cost effective without gas.
The trial would be assessed over the course of “a reasonable time period,” to ensure it met consumer needs and grid security requirements. This would include testing capacity and function in a range of climate conditions.
“For future residents, this trial will mean access to affordable housing, diverse and sustainable design and savings to energy costs,” he said.
But the gas-free housing trial at Ginninderry is not expected to be the only example of all-electric living in the ACT for long, as the Territory looks to continue decarbonising its economy in more innovative ways.
“As the ACT moves to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2020, gas will become one of the major remaining contributors to greenhouse gas pollution, so we will need to find options to reduce gas use,” Rattenbury said at the Ginninderry project’s launch in February.
As it is, recent government data has shown that the amount of gas being consumed by ACT households is already falling – and at a much faster rate than its eastern state neighbours, thanks largely to efficient electric appliances and the widespread installation of rooftop solar.
The January report shows average annual household gas consumption has dropped 22 per cent since 2010 and 13 per cent since 2015 – from 50 gigajoules in 2010, to 45 gigajoules in 2015, and 39 gigajoules in 2017.
The number of households connected to gas fell from 70 per cent in 2010 to 67.9 per cent in 2014, and the number of households using gas for space heating fell from 60 per cent in 2011 to 45 per cent in 2014.
“This shows that ACT residents are being smarter with their gas consumption, and are making the switch to move away from gas altogether,” Rattenbury said.
“People are using more energy efficient gas appliances, taking energy efficiency actions like draught proofing their houses or switching to electrical appliances.”