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Shane Rattenbury questions gas fire subsidies

Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury has questioned increases in government subsidies for Canberrans switching from wood fires to gas heating, breaking ranks with Labor cabinet colleagues.

On Tuesday, the Territory and Municipal Services Minister said the increases in government payments was inconsistent with the territory's efforts to reduce carbon emissions into the earth's atmosphere. 

He called for changes, or for the government's scheme to be extended to support electric heating in Canberra homes.

This week the government increased rebates provided to encourage more Canberra homeowners to replace older wood-fuelled heaters.

Last year fewer than 30 homeowners took part in the government's wood heater replacement program, in which utility company ActewAGL provides cash incentives for the removal of wood heaters and older technology combustion stoves.

The territory rebate has increased from $800 for gas-ducted systems to $1100, while single gas appliances replacing wood heaters can attract $600.  

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Mr Rattenbury said high use of home heating in Canberra caused large carbon emissions and the area needed to be addressed in order for the ACT to meet its commitment of 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2025. 

Wood smoke can pose a serious health risk for people with lung or heart conditions and has been the subject of complaints from homeowners in the Tuggeranong Valley.

"It's a strange policy to increase subsidies for homeowners who replace wood heaters with new gas heating at a time when we seriously need to consider how we can transition away from gas in order to meet our ambitious greenhouse targets," said Mr Rattenbury.

"While it may be a gradual process for those people already using gas to shift to electric-based heating, we certainly shouldn't encourage people to start fresh with gas heating now. 

"It's totally counter-intuitive to the government's ambitions to be a carbon neutral city."

He called for gas heating to be removed from the government's wood heater replacement scheme or for the scheme to be extended to include electric-based technologies for householders, promoting a switch to sustainable energy systems.

Mr Rattenbury cited research from Melbourne University's Melbourne Energy Institute released last week, showing how the use of electric split-systems for heating was cheaper than using gas. The savings come as gas prices rise in eastern Australia.

"By encouraging people to get onto gas now, we are ensuring that they will be the victim of predicted high gas price over the next five  years," he said.

"But by encouraging people to go electric now, we know they will be running on renewables in five years."