Just transition must be focus of five-year plan for sustainable energy in ACT

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) is calling on the ACT Government to assess all measures in its next 5-year plan for sustainable energy against criteria for a just transition to zero net greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT by 2045. Responding to the ACT Government’s ACT Sustainable Energy Policy 2020-25 Discussion Paper, ACTCOSS has made 20 recommendations aimed at building community trust and ensuring a socially just energy system in the ACT, especially for those living in low-income households.

Craig Wallace, Policy Manager, ACTCOSS said, “ACTCOSS advocates strongly on reducing the impacts of climate change while improving energy affordability in the ACT. The people the community sector works with are among the first to feel climate impacts, but we also note they are the first to experience mitigation impacts.

“A win-win is possible and the vision we have is for a well-planned and managed transition that halts climate change and reduces poverty and inequality.”

Last week the national expert energy policy adviser, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC), estimated that electricity bills will fall by 7% in the ACT over the next three years due in part to increases in renewable energy generation. This highlights how measures to address climate change and improvements in energy affordability can be linked.

“The need to calibrate this properly and urgently has been put into sharp focus by this week’s record temperatures and the continuing failure to come to grips with climate change at a national level.

“During last week’s UN Conference on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid, ACTCOSS joined the national network of Councils of Social Service in calling on the Australian Government to take urgent action on climate change to support those hardest hit by its impacts – people on low incomes and experiencing disadvantage. Here in the ACT we continue to support the commitment to achieving zero net emissions by 2045 while stressing the need to ensure a just transition as set out in the COSS Climate Statement.

“From 2020 the ACT will have 100% renewable electricity. Two key areas that we now need to focus on are natural gas and transport which will account for around 20% and 60% of ACT emissions in 2020 respectively. The transition away from natural gas and the movement towards zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) will need to be carefully managed to ensure low-income households in the ACT are not made worse off, and ideally are made better off.

“In relation to gas, ACTCOSS recommends that there be no expansion of the gas network into new suburbs under the Sustainable Energy Policy 2020-25 in order to minimise risk and costs. This timeframe overlaps with the next five-year plan for the gas network in the ACT and Queanbeyan-Palerang region that is currently being developed by Evoenergy as the region’s gas distribution network service provider. ACTCOSS will continue to engage with both the ACT Government and Evoenergy to ensure that these plans meet the criteria for a fair and just transition for people living on low incomes and experiencing disadvantage.

“In relation to transport, ACTCOSS recommends an initial focus on increasing adoption of ZEVs in fleets, including community transport fleets, rather than providing subsidies for individuals. Beyond 2020-25 we do see value in providing subsidies, but only if they are targeted at supporting low-income households to purchase ZEVs.

“As low-income households spend a greater proportion of their income on energy, concessions will remain a vital part of addressing affordability. Our submission calls for continuation of the utilities concession and the $100 voucher program alongside positive measures that support low-income households to increase their energy efficiency such as the Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme and the Home Energy Assessments for Low-Income Households program.

“Uncertainty and change are unsettling when it comes to daily fundamentals like energy and transport. This is compounded when people are faced with financial and other barriers to improving energy efficiency, replacing household appliances, or purchasing a vehicle. The development of clear plans by both government and the energy sector that include major milestones and measures of progress to ensure no one is left behind will help build community trust. ACTCOSS will support and advocate for such planning locally – through community development approaches and policy initiatives such as the Energised Consumers project funded by Energy Consumers Australia and the ACT Government – and nationally through the Councils of Social Service network.

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