When the Victorian Government said they were seeking public consultation on a gas substitution roadmap it was an impressive moment. As the heaviest fossil gas user, at over a third of the domestic market, the Victorian Government was finally recognising and planning to tackle our statewide gas problem. As we plunged into an energy crisis brought on by the fossil energy retailers, drafting this document was timely.
The Victorian Gas Substitution Roadmap (VGSR) makes all the right noises. It swaps out the term “natural” gas, replacing it with the more aptly descriptive “fossil” gas. It recognises that people are struggling with gas bills that have doubled in the past year. It identifies efficiency as a critical factor with the 7 star minimum housing standard required for all new homes including public housing.
But what about the millions of inefficient homes that lack adequate insulation? What about rental and social housing, low income homeowners struggling to maintain cost of living already? These are often the households that most need help to transition. What about the health impacts of having old gas appliances in these homes?
The VGSR frames the problems of gas in a way that no state, territory or federal government has before. And then fails to deliver a solid solution. A year after the International Energy Agency told us that in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050 we cannot afford to open up a single new gas field, this document allows exactly that. Plus it is prepared to consider the import of gas from new drill sites from the north of Australia into floating gas terminals, which could forever devastate the environments of Corio Bay and Port Phillip Bay. Months after the IPCC reported that we have until 2030 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 75% or face catastrophe, this document tinkers with those critical years for change.
Because the truth is that it’s not a matter of if, but when the curtains fall on the gas industry, both here in Victoria and globally. Gas is in an economic death spiral. A sensible government would map out a plan for an equitable rapid retirement of gas from the energy economy.
This means planning an orderly shut down of the gas pipeline system that pumps methane into our homes. It means ensuring that the lower income outer suburban areas are not left paying for the upkeep of the network through gas bills that they can’t afford but can’t afford to move away from. This requires that the government immediately stop paying people to replace their old gas appliances with new gas appliances under the Victorian Energy Upgrades program and only offers efficient electric appliances powered by renewables. This demands that instead of simply no longer requiring new developments to be connected to gas, that any future gas connections be prohibited entirely.
Most critically of all it requires the strength of political will to refuse to open a single new gas well anywhere in the state, to scrap plans for the Western Outer Ring Main, a whole new gas main to be built years after the Australian Energy Regulator signalled that gas pipelines were already on the way to becoming stranded assets.
The Victorian Government is to be commended for opening up a much-needed conversation about the importance of shifting away from gas as a whole-of-state effort. Their commitment to remove gas from government buildings, including public schools and hospitals shows real leadership delivering better health and economic outcomes for Victoria. But it’s only the beginning of a decarbonisation of our energy economy that must happen fairly and rapidly with measurable targets.