Noel Towell September 19, 2012
Canberra could be running on 90 per cent renewable energy within eight years, under an ambitious plan to be unveiled by the ACT government today.
If re-elected next month, ACT Labor says it would commit the territory to a climate change action plan that would see the city powered mostly by solar, wind and ''biomass'' produced energy with vast solar and wind farms dotted around the region.
The plan contains 18 actions, across the residential, commercial, waste, transport, generation and planning sectors, aimed at cutting energy use and household power bills and taking Canberra's mix of renewables from less than 10 per cent today to more than 90 per cent by 2020. But conscious of the political sensitivity to power bills, the first five years of the plan concentrates on tackling the ''low hanging fruit'' of cutting the city's energy use before moving into large-scale renewables around 2017, with a goal of having wind turbines turning by 2020.
It is the first time the ACT has included large-scale wind farms in its plans for energy consumption and the plan, Action Plan 2, envisages wind gradually taking over from solar as the main source of green power for the capital.
The 583 megawatts of wind generation envisaged to be in place by 2020 would dwarf the plans for 90 megawatts of solar production slated to be in place in the same period.
The plan also counts on a radical shift in commuter behaviour in Canberra, setting a goal of 30 per cent of journeys around the city to be taken on public transport within eight years as Labor tries to honour its pledge of a 40 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, on 1990 levels, by 2020.
The Environment and Sustainable Development department planners who wrote the report also believe that up to 23 megawatts of power could be generated by burning or decomposing organic waste, or ''biomass'', that is currently sent to landfill.
Environment Minister Simon Corbell says the goals can be achieved while keeping electricity bills under control and that the plan also includes annual cost-of-living statements that will accompany the progress reports on the plan.
''Between now and 2017 we expect savings of about $30 per household per year,'' the minister said.
''Between 2018 and 2020, costs could increase by about $60 per year per household but that's before we take into account reductions in transport fuel use, if we factor in saving associated with better public transport, there will be a net household saving by the year 2020.
''These measures are affordable and have direct regard to the community's concern about the cost of making the transition to a low carbon future.''
Early this month, Spanish firm Fotowatio Renewable Ventures signed a deal with the government to build the 50-hectare complex, Australia's biggest solar project, on rural land off the Monaro Highway at Royalla south of Tuggeranong.
Mr Corbell said he was aware of the political sensitivity around electricity bills and that affordability to the community was a central element to the plan.
''The government has agreed to this plan on the basis that we will start with low-cost measures first which will save households money between now and 2017 and that each measure is subject to detailed review,'' he said. ''We have also decided that we will undertake a yearly cost-of-living analysis on all measures before they are introduced and on the ongoing operation.''
The first cost of living assessment will be due 12 months after the plan begins.