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Saturday, December 5, 2020
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Major parties split on new housing gas connections

Candidates from the three major parties and one minor party put their gas policies on the record last night in the Conservation Council ACT Region’s online ACT election candidate forum on climate change and urban planning.

Conversation Council ACT Region executive director Helen Oakey said burning gas in Canberra’s buildings contributed 22% of the city’s direct emissions and government climate change strategy should include its phasing out.

“Over the next five years, Evoenergy which is 50% owned by the ACT government intends to spend around $35 million of gas consumer’s money on new gas connections, including connecting new apartment buildings across the city.”

Ms Oakey asked the candidates if they accept that Canberra must transition away from natural gas and if they support “as a first step” the immediate stopping of all new gas connections to ensure new users don’t get trapped using a fuel that is known to be necessarily phased out.

ACT Labor spokesperson for the environment Mick Gentleman did not commit to the immediate halt of gas connections and said they wanted to support the “many households reliant on gas” and wouldn’t risk jobs in an economic crisis. 

“I guess it’s still important to some industries and sectors also we don’t want to lock ourselves out of future technology.

“We’re taking a sensible and balanced approach, providing incentives for people to transition away from gas with interest free loans to encourage people to switch to solar hot water heating.

“Historically, we’ve supported gas not being connected to houses.

“I’ll have to talk to my colleagues to get a position in regard to those (new) apartments.”

Canberra Liberals spokesperson for the environment Elizabeth Lee said gas infrastructure was “obviously” still in place and the Liberals would see how the new developments “pan out”.

“We can’t sort of forget about it because we have an ideological opposition to it,” Ms Lee said.

“About new developments, I’m not in a position to say or give a commitment to no gas connections, but obviously, that’s something that will be considered quite a lot by the Liberals.”

Forum moderator Ms Oakey pushed Ms Lee on her position.

“I just wanted to check what the Canberra Liberals position was on the rollout of new infrastructure to suburbs, which is actually something that Evoenergy have pulled back from 2021. Primarily, because I don’t think they think it’s financially viable,” Ms Oakey said.

“I’m not in a position at this time to say yes or no. But obviously, it’ll be a further discussion and that’s something that’s important for us to be discussing into the future about how we how we make that transition,” Ms Lee said.

Canberra Progressives candidate for Murrumbigee Robert Knight said he would “definitely support” the immediate cessation of building gas infrastructure and called for the ACT government to get out of gas ownership.

“The ACT government needs to divest itself of their 50% ownership of Evoenergy,” Mr Knight said.

“It seems to me, there is something going on.  Something behind the scenes influencing the outcome of maintaining ownership or the rollout of this stuff.

“It just needs to stop.

“As a personal anecdote, my house was built four years ago and I scratched my head about why there was a gas line going in for just our hot water and nothing else.

“I don’t understand why everything in a household can’t be electrified at this point in time, there’s no reason for it.”

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said there was “no reason” to build new gas connections and they would work with the industry on new developments.

“We’re seeing multi-story apartment buildings with 150 or so apartments connected to gas,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“This is creating problems for future renters.

“We’ll put together a $20 billion financial support package to help existing buildings make the switch.

“I would note that our gas plan has been described as “crazy” by the Chief Minister and I think that that is disappointing.

“I was surprised by that response because it’s a very clear strategy to say, let’s start with the easy thing, which is let’s not connect anybody else to gas going forward.

“The technologies available to us now are cost effective and there is no reason to continue to roll out new gas infrastructure.”

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