Jul 11, 2023

Ban on gas connections for new homes in Australia’s Victoria prompts calls for other states to follow suit

SYDNEY - A controversial decision by Australia’s second-most populous state, Victoria, to ban new households from being connected to the natural gas grid has prompted calls for other states to also switch to electricity-only cooking and heating in a move that could cut carbon emissions and costs.

The announcement last week by Victoria – whose households are the nation’s largest consumers of gas – that new homes will no longer be allowed to connect to the gas network from 2024 came as a surprise to residents, and led to criticism and mockery.

Tabloids ran headlines such as “Hang up your wok”, while Mr Kyle Sandilands – a rabble-rousing radio broadcaster – accused Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews of treating the state’s 6.7 million residents like “idiots”.

“They will be banning (cigarette) lighters next,” he said. “We will be rubbing two sticks together to get a cigarette lit.”

But many experts believe that moving households from gas to electricity will help to ensure that the states fulfil their commitments to achieve net-zero emissions.

This is because the electricity supply in the country increasingly relies on renewable sources.

Victoria, for instance, is aiming for 95 per cent of its electricity to be renewable by 2035.

The other reason that experts are pushing to move away from gas is because electrical appliances often use far less energy.

Gas heaters, which are widely used in Victoria, are far less efficient than reverse cycle heating systems, which use electricity but are able to absorb heat from outside the home.

A report released in June by Grattan Institute, a public policy think-tank, said that Australia will be unable to meet its federal net-zero emissions target unless it ends the use of natural gas.

“Governments need to step in and generate greater momentum towards an all-electric residential sector,” the report said.

“Getting off gas will be complex for governments and difficult for many people – but delaying action will only make it more so.”

The call to switch to electricity marks a significant change for the country, where analysts for years believed gas – which produces lower emissions than coal-fired electricity – would be a crucial “transition” fuel that would assist the country in moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Mr Marc England, head of Ausgrid, the main electricity distributor on Australia’s east coast, said he welcomed Victoria’s ban, saying it will lead to a “cleaner and more cost-effective future for Australians”.

“I hope to see other states following suit,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

But other states have signalled that they are unlikely to impose mandatory gas bans.

The only other government to impose a ban is the Australian Capital Territory, which passed laws in June to end gas connections in new homes and plans to end all use of gas by 2045.

In New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, Premier Chris Minns said on Monday that he will not ban gas because he was concerned about the potential impact on power supplies, as several coal-fired power plants are due to shut.

But he noted that households which switch voluntarily from gas could save from A$1,000 (S$880) to A$7,000 a year in power bills.

Mr Minns told the 2GB radio station that the state still needs gas for industry, and also that the current renewable supply is not large enough to allow a ban on household gas.

Other states took similar positions.

In Western Australia, the government said it still saw gas as an important “transition fuel”.

“Our priority is providing clean, reliable and affordable energy to all West Australians into the future,” said a government spokesman.

Some states want to try to produce “green” gas, which involves lowering gas emissions by blending in fuels such as green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy.

But critics say that such proposals are likely to be too costly and may require expensive upgrades to the gas network.

An energy analyst, Mr Tristan Edis, said gas industry players claimed that they could inject hydrogen into pipelines, but noted that “their investment plans are laughably small”.

“If you believe gas companies, (Victoria’s ban) will not only deprive Victorians of their barbecue and a nice steak… but also increase emissions and energy bills,” he wrote in The Australian Financial Review on Wednesday.

“Because an electric heater needs vastly less energy to operate, it still delivers lower emissions. The second thing gas companies neglect to mention is that the share of renewable energy in the electricity grid is growing rapidly.”

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