Canberra mother Dr Melissa Lovell has long feared the effects of climate change — but it was the enduring weeks of hazardous bushfire smoke last summer that motivated her to address her own emissions by planning an “all-electric home.”
“We’re only a block back from the bush so we were certainly looking at those fires rolling in for a number of weeks, and it was very concerning having a house full of smoke,” Melissa said.
“I think, like a lot of people, that made it [climate change] not just an intellectual thing but something that was very concrete.
“We started thinking about, not just what we were able to do to keep the smoke out, but also what we were able to do to push back against climate change.”
Melissa started researching how to transition her 1979 Kambah home away from a reliance on gas — a pricey project, that for her family, comes with the added challenge of making an older property more energy efficient.
“We have two major gas appliances here: the first of those is our heating, that’s the biggest expense, and the second is our hot water system. So, if we can replace those two appliances, we can actually move to an all-electric home pretty much straight away,” Melissa explained.
But she has estimated the switch could cost around $8,000 upfront — a big financial hit for most families.
Although expensive, Melissa has chosen to focus on the longer-term savings as she will finally be able to wave goodbye to her dreaded gas bills.
“In our last quarter [winter] we spent $750 on gas,” Melissa said.
She has described her older home as being very well ventilated and said she planned to further increase energy efficiency by closing gaps and relying on a pre-existing reverse cycle air conditioner.
And as a mother to four-year-old Allegra and one-year-old Vincent, she said turning her back on gas — a non-renewable fossil fuel — was the right thing to do for her children’s future.
For now, ACT homes still consume electricity produced by coal and gas plants — but for every watt of power the ACT consumes, it pays one back through its renewable investments around the country.
Call for household, industry incentives
Existing government policy has the ACT slated to abandon gas by 2045 — a crucial step to achieving the Territory’s target of zero net greenhouse gases by the same year.
For some, the aim to eventually dump gas might feel like a plan without much consequence for decades, but Canberra’s emerging suburbs have already been designed without gas connections.
And while energy debates have long been spicier in federal politics, the ACT election campaign has brought out a disagreement between ACT Labor and ACT Greens, with Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury calling on Chief Minister Andrew Barr to commit to bringing the gas-be-gone target forward by five years — a call that was quickly shot down.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has told Canberrans not to feel pressured to act immediately, but to simply swap gas appliances for electric alternatives as they age.
But Director of climate and energy at The Australia Institute, Richie Merzian, said “better” incentives to switch are needed right now, as no one can accurately predict when their appliances will fail.
“To transition away, you need to incentivise households and industry to actually switch, so that when the time comes to replace hot water systems that run on gas, to replace cooking systems that run on gas, then households make the choice because they have the incentives.”
Will we see ‘gas energy poverty’?
Mr Merzian also raised concerns about “a real risk that some people might not be able to meet the high capital cost to make the initial switch … and it could see a situation of gas energy poverty — people stuck with gas which is more expensive when there are cheaper alternatives.”
He said he expects gas prices to continue to grow, as more and more Canberrans abandon the energy source, reducing its demand and leaving those still using gas with bigger bills.
ACT Council of Social Service CEO, Dr Emma Campbell, echoed fears that poorer Canberrans could be forgotten.
“We’re very supportive of a transition to zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 or earlier but it’s really important that the transition is just, fair and does not leave people on low incomes … stranded on a gas network with higher bills compared to the rest of the Canberra community.”