ACT to phase out gas as it launches next stage to zero carbon strategy

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After success of its 100% renewable electricity target, ACT sets its sights on phasing out gas in next phase of ambitious climate strategy.

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The ACT government has unveiled the next phase of its strategy towards zero net emissions, saying it will look to phase out the use of gas,  electrify all new government-owned buildings and support the further adoption of emissions-free transport options.

The ACT chief minister Andrew Barr and climate change minister Shane Rattenbury have jointly revealed the ACT’s climate change strategy through to 2025, designed to take the ACT’s overall emissions reductions to 50% to 60% by 2025, the key stepping stone of its ultimate target  of zero net emissions by 2045.

Next month, the ACT will reach its goal of 100% renewable electricity – a target which Rattenbury describes as “the easy part” and which will reduce overall emissions by 40 per cent. That leaves transport accounting for 61 per cent, and gas around 22 per cent. But because there is not a lot the ACT can do about EVs, without a federal plan, it is going to focus on taking gas out of its local system.

ACT’s Labor-Greens government has successfully implemented some of Australia’s most ambitious emissions reduction and renewable energy targets. partly because it doesn’t suffer the same complexities in managing its energy system as other states, and doesn’t have a local fossil fuel industry.

But it has proven an ideal test-bed for policies eventually adapted elsewhere, particularly in reverse auctions, and it has provided a crucial lifeline to a renewables sector that suffered under the backward policies of successive Coalition Federal Governments.

Now it gets a bit more tricky, and Rattenbury warned that focusing on the use of gas and addressing transport issues will require behavioural change from ACT households not needed before.

The ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-2025 includes a commitment for all new ACT government offices and public school buildings will be completely electric, ensuring that all of the energy used in these facilities can be sourced via the ACT’s 100% renewable electricity arrangements, and will eliminate the need for natural gas in the use of heating, cooling and cooking.

The ACT will also remove the mandatory requirement for new homes built in the ACT to be connected to the mains gas network and will begin to introduce new policies to replace gas appliances with electric alternatives.

“We intend to phase out use of gas,” Rattenbury said. “We were trained to believe that gas was cleaner and cheaper,.

But with the ACT about to complete its shift to 100 per cent renewable electricity (when the Hornsdale 3 wind farm starts to deliver on its contract in a fortnight), gas is no longer cleaner, or cheaper.

“It just another fossil fuel.and people no longer see it as cleaner any more.” But he said the move will happen naturally to some extent, with 14 per cent of customers already dumping gas and going totally electric.

The planned shift away from gas has already attracted the ire of ACT Government part-owned electricity and gas retailer ActewAGL, which Rattenbury admitted is reluctant to see the government actively supporting its customers to disconnect from the mains gas network.

“There is … tension over this issue … between Actew AGL’s corporate intentions and the government’s greenhouse gas intentions.”

The ACT Government will investigate the inclusion of a social cost of carbon in its procurement processes and will prioritise investments in long-terms emissions reduction measures over the simple measure of purchasing carbon offsets to satisfy its emissions reduction goals.

The ACT Government has also committed to shifting Canberra’s bus network to a zero emissions bus fleet by 2040, building upon the experience gained through the previous trials of all-electric and hybrid buses.

The ACT Government will also seek to switch its own vehicle fleet to entirely zero emissions alternatives, including its early commitments to operate some of Australia’s first hydrogen fuelled vehicles.

Rattenbury saw the role of government fleets as important for supporting zero-emissions vehicle uptake, including through the creation of a second-hand market for electric vehicles.

But the ACT – apart from mandating an EV fleet for its own government uses – will stop short of establishing specific targets for electric vehicle sales, seeing the federal government being best placed for establishing an environment supportive for electric vehicle sales.

He said that for fleets, there was virtually no cost difference. And for consumers, once cost parity is achieved in coming years, there will be no turning back.

Rattenbury told a media briefing that it would be “very disappointing” to see the Federal Labor party abandon its 2030 emissions reduction target.

The ACT Greens minister said that it would be “inevitable” that there would be a price placed on carbon emissions, and that the measures taken by the ACT Government to proactively reduce the ACT’s emissions will help shield ACT households from these future costs.

“Among these many commitments are a number of Australian state or territory firsts – cementing the ACT as a global climate action leader,” Rattenbury said.

“The Strategy and Plan outline measures that will promote sustainable transport, supporting the phasing out natural gas, cool our city by increasing the number of trees, improve energy efficiency, and improve the way we plan our city and the way we construct Canberra’s housing.”

“The Strategy aims to meet our legislated target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-60% from 1990 levels by 2025, and the Plan sets a target to grow our city’s urban tree canopy to 30% by 2045.”

The ACT will adopt targets and strategies that will work to alleviate some of the impacts of global warming on the ACT through a complementary Living Infrastructure Plan, including a 30% urban tree canopy target and 30% surface permeability target for the ACT to reduce the heat island effect within suburbs and town centres.

The ACT will also investigate new measures to invest in improved infrastructure for active transport alternatives, including walking and cycling, and will introduce minimum energy performance standards for rental properties.

The launch of the 2025 climate change strategy follows confirmation from the ACT government that it will conduct a new round of reverse auctions to secure additional 250MW of renewable energy supply that will be paired with a 20MW/40MWh ‘big battery’ system that must be built within the ACT.

The big battery system will work to optimise the use of renewable energy generated within the ACT and improve energy security.

The additional reverse auctions reflects an ongoing need to invest in renewable energy projects as jurisdictions like ACT continue to shift energy use from fossil fuels to a renewably powered electricity system.

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