Air pollution could be an unwanted side effect of plans to build energy efficient homes at the ACT government’s Ginninderry development, warns the Environment Protection Authority.
Planning Minister Mick Gentleman recently announced a trial in which 350 houses at Ginninderry would scrap gas power in favour of all-electric energy.
Government comparisons indicated the upfront costs for kitting out an all-electric home with appliances could be as much as $5755 more than scenarios using gas power.
However, this was offset by estimated savings of $1800 each year in energy costs, an ACT government spokesman said.
The Environment Protection Authority, which supported the plan in-principle, cautioned it could lead to houses instead burning solid fuel for heat and thereby polluting the air.
Under ACT planning laws it is currently mandatory for gas utilities to be provided in all new estates and subdivisions. The ACT is the only jurisdiction in Australia where it is compulsory to provide gas infrastructure at new developments.
The ACT government would not save any money by making it optional to provide gas infrastructure.
“The Ginninderry estate development is at the forefront of energy system design in Australia,” Mr Gentleman said.
“This trial will mean higher design and insulation standards set for other developments in the ACT which will bring advances in sustainability, more affordable living and greater customer choice.”
With renewable energy becoming more affordable and reliable, it was not consistent with the ACT government’s vision to rely on gas, Mr Gentleman said.
In 2016, the ACT government set a target of sourcing 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2020.
“For future residents, this trial will mean access to affordable housing, diverse and sustainable design and savings to energy costs,” Mr Gentleman said.
The Environment Protection Authority outlined its concerns in consultation with the ACT planning directorate, which prepared the proposed territory plan variation.
“The proposed variation is supported in principle, however will limit the choices available for space heating in homes and could result in an increased reliance on solid fuel heating options in the area,” the authority said.
“The air quality impact assessment … completed as part of the Ginninderry environment assessment process indicates particulate pollution from solid-fuel heaters could present air-quality issues in the area.”
The authority recommended restrictions on the type of solid-fuel heaters and also recommended outlawing second-hand heaters.
An ACT government spokesman said wood-fired heaters were not a "preferred solution" for Ginninderry, and any wood heaters would have to comply with territory emissions standards.
The Ginninderry project is a 60:40 joint venture between the ACT government and Corkhill Brothers subsidiary Riverview Developments.
The joint venture has about 30 stages of works planned on both sides of the NSW/ACT border, with a total of 11,500 new homes.
The NSW part of the project still requires state government approval.
The overall project is set to run until 2056, with the next hurdle for Riverview Developments being the public consultation process for stage two of the development, which involves the construction of 814 homes in the ACT.
Stage one was given the green light by the ACT planning directorate last year in the face of environmental concerns raised by the territory's conservator of flora and fauna, who opposed the removal of 20 regulated, hollow bearing and habitat trees.
The Ginninderra Falls Association also objected, highlighting concerns about the impact of the development on species including pink-tailed worm lizards, little eagles and golden sun moths.
The development as a whole also required Commonwealth approval, and the federal government responded by imposing 13 specific environmental conditions, including that the developers put aside land for a "conservation corridor" and set up an environmental trust.