ACT unveils plan to wean Canberra households off gas

The ACT government will provide incentives for households to shift away from the use of gas in their homes through an expanded energy efficiency scheme, as the territory targets next-stage emissions reductions and approaches 100% renewable electricity.

The ACT government announced in January that it would extend the energy efficiency scheme for a further 10 years through to 2030, while also expanding the opportunities for low-income households to participate in the scheme, and extending the coverage of the scheme to gas providers, in addition to electricity retailers.

The Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme (EEIS) creates an obligation for electricity retailers in the ACT to deliver rebates and incentives for households and businesses to reduce their electricity consumption by supporting the installation of energy efficient appliances and improvements to the building energy performance.

“The proposed changes reflect the emissions reduction challenge we face in the ACT in the coming decade. With 100% of ACT electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020, our particular challenge is to reduce the emissions from gas and transport,” ACT climate change minister Shane Rattenbury said at the time.

“Tackling these emissions is key to reaching our goal of zero net emissions by 2045.

“This new EEIS will also be designed around the principle of a ‘just transition’, and will focus on supporting lower income households. Transitioning to a carbon free future is critical, but it is also critical that we support people, particularly those in lower income households, on this journey.”

The ACT has now expanded the scheme, to provide financial incentives for homes and businesses to reduce their gas consumption, with rebates of up to $5,000 will be available for households to replace ducted gas heaters with energy efficient reverse cycle air conditioners.

By shifting gas appliances to electric appliances, the ACT government hopes to achieve further reductions in the territories emissions, given the ACT will be sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources as soon as October.

As part of the expanded scheme, ACT Government has established specific targets for the participation of low-income households in the scheme, by mandating that at least one-in-five homes receiving grants under the program must be a low-income household.

From 2020, this requirement will be increase to 30% of households, which the ACT expects will result in an additional 400 low income households benefiting from the energy efficiency scheme.

While no specific details are available at this stage, the ACT Government has flagged that it will also examine how the energy efficiency scheme could be used to reduce emissions in the transport sector, including the introduction of new incentives to support the uptake of electric vehicles.

The ACT has legislated a target of achieving zero net emissions by 2045. Having shifted the ACT’s electricity supplies to zero-emissions sources, the ACT Government has turned its attention to reducing emissions in other sectors of the ACT economy. Gas use, transport and waste emissions represent the three largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the Territory.

The ACT has sought to reduce the level of gas use in the ACT, including avoiding the roll-out of mains gas infrastructure into new suburb developments, and incentivising households to shift gas appliances to electricity powered alternatives.

The roll-out of mains gas infrastructure has historically been mandatory for all suburb developments in the ACT. However, with the rising costs of gas and the environmental benefits of shifting to electric appliances, creates the risk that additional infrastructure roll-outs will burden consumers with the cost of underutilised, and potentially stranded, gas network infrastructure.

Home insulation will also be added to the scheme, with as many as 55% of ACT homes having inadequate home insulation. The lack of insulation in Canberra, which can be bitterly cold during winter, is an issue that has been highlighted through a research report published by renters advocacy body Better Renting. The research found that inadequate insulation could be the contributor to up to 42 deaths annually caused by cold housing.

Better Renting executive director Joel Dignam welcomed the announcement, but told RenewEconomy there was some concern that renters may miss out on the benefits of the energy efficiency scheme while paying for the scheme with costs being passed through to all ACT consumers via electricity bills.

“It’s great to see these changes. Rental properties in the ACT are much less likely to have ceiling insulation, so Better Renting welcomes any support for residential insulation. We know that this can make a huge difference for people who rent, cutting their power bills and helping them to have a healthier home. In other countries, retrofitting with insulation has led to reduced hospitalisation rates, usage of medication, and time away from work or school,” Dignam told.
“However, we’re concerned that private renters will pay for this scheme through their power bills, while being locked out of the benefits. Private renters are at the mercy of their landlords when it comes to benefiting from a scheme like this, and past experience of the EEIS and other programs suggests that landlords do not take up opportunities to improve their properties.”
“In addition to the carrot of financial support, the ACT Government should be requiring landlords to make sure their properties are adequately insulated.”

The ACT Government recently announced the latest round of battery storage grants, which will see four companies offering subsidised energy battery storage systems to ACT households. Under the battery storage initiative, ACT households could receive rebates of up to $4,000 on a battery system, with the size of the rebate tied to the size of the system installed.

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