An entire community of households and businesses in the Western Australian town of Esperance is in the process of quitting gas, as part of a state government-backed transition to full electrification prompted by the closure of the area’s privately-owned gas network.
The Labor McGowan government announced this week that it had committed $10.5 million to help shift 379 customers in the south coast town from reticulated gas by March 31, 2023, when Esperance Gas Distribution Company will cease operations.
The funding, which was announced as part of the State Budget 2022-23, will provide financial support for 258 private residential and 41 business customers to transition to “new energy solutions.”
The transition program, which is being managed by state-owned utility Horizon Power, offers financial assistance for existing gas customers to remove their gas appliances and replace them with new ‘like for like’ electric alternatives, including installation costs and electrical work.
And while Horizon Power is offering the option to support a conversion of appliances to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), this is strictly under circumstances where full electrification is deemed not economically or technically feasible.
Otherwise, the clear message to the people of Esperance – which is also in the process of meeting nearly half of its energy needs via a renewable microgrid combining solar, wind and battery storage – is to seize the opportunity to quit gas.
“Converting to electricity reduces greenhouse gas emissions and aligns with the Shire of Esperance’s Climate Change Declaration and supports the WA Government’s commitment to zero emissions by 2050,” Horizon’s Esperance Energy Transition Plan Customer Hub says.
“Energy efficient electric appliances often have lower running costs than their gas equivalents and mean more of a household’s energy consumption will come from renewable energy, helping to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the Esperance community.
“Complete home electrification also reduces supply and service charges by having less energy sources and suppliers in the home.”
Esperance’s journey to electrification started in September of 2021, when EGDC revealed that it could not commercially continue to supply gas and operate the reticulated gas network, and intended to cease operations in March 2022.
To buy time, the WA government, via Horizon Power, cut a deal to secure another year of gas supply, and then set about putting in place plans and supports to help customers to go all-electric, with applications for financial assistance opening this week.
Outside of Esperance’s unique set of circumstances, however, there is a broader Australian and global shift towards full electrification in homes and businesses.
This is being driven by solar powered consumers, energy efficiency and environment advocates, some parts of the building industry, and – ultimately – by sound economics.
Last year, a WA-based study found that an all-electric new-build home with rooftop solar and no gas appliances could save households on the state’s main grid up to $10,500 on energy costs over 10 years compared to dual fuel homes without solar.
For customers on heavily gas-dependent grids, such as in Victoria, this is not always easy – as this article from 2020 explained.
And as energy efficiency advocate Tim Forcey wrote here, the gas industry has been working to stem the tide with a public-relations offensive targeting householders and decision-makers at all levels of government.
What the Esperance experience has demonstrated, however, is that quitting gas in homes and businesses can be done, when push comes to shove; and that when push did come to shove, going all-electric was found to be the best way to go.
According to the Horizon Power fact sheets, for example, all-electric heat pump hot water systems offer operating efficiencies between 250% to 400% compared to natural gas hot water systems, which usually operate at 75% efficiency, and can “significantly decrease” household energy bills.
And on space heating and cooling, which commonly accounts for 40% of total energy consumed at a residential property, Horizon says reverse cycle air-conditioners operate between 300% to 600% efficiency, compared to gas heating systems – meaning that for every unit of electrical energy consumed, the system delivers 3 to 6 times more heating or cooling energy.
“Horizon Power’s Esperance Energy Transition Plan is an important step in securing long-term energy supply to residential customers connected to the reticulated gas network,” said WA energy minister Bill Johnston in a statement on Tuesday.
“The financial package will ensure they have support to secure appropriate trades and to convert gas appliances.
“The McGowan government remains committed to ensuring impacted customers have a choice in their new energy solutions and that all transition works are completed by March 31, 2023.”