August 09, 2007 | Ronda Jambe

Green Energy heats up in the ACT

The ACT announced its long overdue climate change policy recently, and ACTEW AGL, the utility that provides gas, water and electricity to the territory’s 300,000 residents, has relaunched its Green Choice option.
Two ticks for the good news, since both of these are positive initiatives that can only help in the global approach to addressing climate change. Indeed, the ACT government paper is titled Weathering the Change, which recognises that climate is changing and must be dealt with. Too bad, of course, that this didn’t happen a few years ago when the final commitment was made to create the Gungahlin Drive Extension, and therefore perpetuate Canberra’s notorious dependence on the privatised version of that 19th century marvel, the internal combustion engine. Too bad that many years of development at Gungahlin haven’t created either substantial employment there or 21st century transport. If you visit the Gungahlin Town Centre, you will immediately wish you were somewhere else.
However, the plot, as always, is somewhat thicker than treacle. What with federal subsidies (up to $8000) for installing solar panels, and the ACT initiative to vastly improve the pay back for generating solar kilowatts off residential (or commercial) roofs, the ACTEW AGL Green Choice option now has direct and serious competition.
Green Choice provides the opportunity to pay a bit more for your electricity, in return for having it sourced sustainably, rather than from that nasty black stuff that we all feel so bad about when we turn on our gadjets. Naturally ACTEW AGL is unhappy with the government’s plans, and protesting. But they will have to comply if goes ahead. Consumers will have extra green energy choices and incentives.
For the many affluent Canberrans who own their own homes, investing directly in solar energy on the roof is a more prudent and profitable alternative. Why pay more, when you can get a generous rebate and add value to your home? The new scheme should allow households to recoup the costs in a matter of years, not decades. For the first time I saw an ad for solar panels to generate electricity, not just hot water, in the Canberra Times. Unlike the Green Choice ads, which have little to offer the consumer beyond a good conscience, creating your own solar and saving money in the longer term is very attractive. I called them immediately.
But all is not lost for the utility, which already has about 9% of its customers volunteering to pay that little bit more. This group could easily increase, given the surge in climate awareness that seems to have woken the sonambulent in the past year or so. Quoting from an article by Sarah Hanson-Young, writing in the latest issue of the magazing from the Australian Greens:
‘Today’s yuppie is quite different from those of the 80s. It is no longer about flashing your dollars around for everyone to see…today’s yuppies prefer organic vegies…and they order their coffee fair-trade with organic soy. The new yuppies work hard to protect their social conscience, and they don’t think issues of climate change are simply stories bantered around by tree-hugging hippies…’
Since housing affordability in the ACT is not the best, Green Choice can still appeal to those who either can’t afford the installation costs of solar energy on their roofs, or who don’t own a roof. Renters and group houses, maybe even strata title owners, can band together to pay the little bit extra, provided they trust ACTEW AGL to carry out their promises with integrity and good management.
But for many Canberrans, trust is not our first response to promises and reassurances of quality, from either the government or the utility. After all, Canberra is on seemingly permanent Stage 3 water restrictions, and the government seems determined to move ahead with recycling sewerage.
So ACTEW AGL will have to get their targeting and their message spot on if they want to increase take up of Green Choice. Meanwhile, you can’t help but agree with Andrew Blakers, professor and world leader in solar energy development at the ANU. He says getting solar panels is now a ‘no brainer’.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 11:49 am | Comments (2) |
Filed under: General


  1. It’s grand that decentralised renewable electric generation is being subsidised, but kind of a pity that the generators targeted — solar photovoltaic cells — are at present the most expensive decentralised generators available, and that the subsidies go only to householders.
    The biggest users of electricity are the resources industry and large commercial and office buildings — I see no indication of subsidies to reduce greenhouse emissions from those sources (except the very-long-term “clean coal” boondoggle).
    Far greater net greenhouse emissions reductions could be achieved today by subsidising cogeneration equipment on industrial and commercial premises. By switching a shopping centre or large office block from using coal-fired, centrally-generated and network-delivered electricity for heating, lighting, ventilation and air conditioning to a local gas-powered trigeneration facility producing electricity, heating and cooling, the same amount of money might deliver ten times the net CO2 reduction achieved by PV panels.
    And as far as I am aware there is no equivalent state, territory or commonwealth subsidy for large wind turbines, which (in 2007) are three or four times more cost-effective than photovoltaic panels but are only bought by electric utilities. Household-scale wind turbines are next to useless.
    PV panels can be expected to be far more cost-effective in another five or ten years’ time — a subsidy then will hardly be necessary to persuade householders to secede from the electricity grid and leave it all to big business.
    Right now, it looks like a lot of money is being thrown away on one of the most expensive greenhouse mitigation technologies. Not as wasteful as nuclear power stations, but almost in the same category.
    A cynic might guess that this direct subsidy to green-leaning homeowners is nothing more than a vote-buying exercise.

    Comment by xoddam aka Jonathan Maddox — August 10, 2007 @ 10:52 am

  2. sounds sad but true, I wonder if the Greens are picking up on the sober message you offer. Co-generation, commercial applications and wind are much needed in the overall mix.

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — August 11, 2007 @ 6:15 pm

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