Mother nature was seen as a big winner in the ACT's 2020-21 budget, with $300 million allocated to tackle climate change over the next five years. But with the territory's plan to continue leading the nation in renewables investment and innovation being rolled out in the coming months, the big question is whether its initiatives will stack up against the rest of the country.
The ACT climate package presented last Tuesday included $150 million for the provision of interest-free loans of up to $15,000 per household to install solar panels, battery storage and hot-water heat pumps, and another $100 million for Canberra's big battery project, currently slated for construction at Jerrabomberra.
A further $50 million will encourage the shift to zero-emissions vehicles, the government says, and improve building efficiency for social and public housing, homes owned by low-income earners, and the lowest-performing rental properties.
In his budget speech, Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr said Canberra will continue to be the renewable energy capital of the nation.
"After meeting our 2020 renewable energy goals, including 100 per cent renewable electricity, and reducing net emissions by 40 per cent, we are taking the next steps towards a zero net emissions future," Mr Barr said. "Our investments today, along with our participation in research and pilot projects, will cement the ACT's status as a hub for renewables innovation."
Australian National University Centre for Climate Economics and Policy director Frank Jotzo said $300 million was not an insignificant amount for a relatively small jurisdiction like the ACT.
"However, let's keep in mind the first stage of the light rail was an investment of approximately double that," he said. "This is not a massive investment, but it is a sizeable one."
Dr Jotzo said the large majority of investments will pay for themselves over time. He said the public money spent on providing interest-free loans will be made back in individual savings generated from energy-efficient housing.
"Similarly with the $100 million for the big battery, experience has shown that these large-scale batteries are actually commercially viable in Australia now, so you can fully expect the battery will pay for itself," he said.
Dr Jotzo said the $50 million for energy efficient housing for low-income earners was also money well spent.
"These are exactly the kind of places where energy efficiency is typically woefully bad, and where for very little money you can make tremendous improvements," he said.
Dr Jotzo said the three proposals for energy efficiency and facilitating a great amount of renewables in the grid were typical of investments of climate-leading jurisdictions around the world - and typical of what was lacking in Australia.
"However, in many other countries and sub-national jurisdictions there are much more substantial support arrangements for electric cars. Registration fee waivers for two years is a very modest measure compared to what is in place across much of north America and ... Europe as well," he said.
More significant tax exemptions and straight-up subsidies for electric vehicles are available in many countries, Dr Jotzo said.
"The ACT can still claim to be a leading jurisdiction in renewable investment. It's the first state or territory in Australia that has facilitated that on average its total electricity use is renewable," he said.
Dr Jotzo said on a larger scale, South Australia was really the leader in Australia due to its high physical presence of renewables. He also said what NSW had in the works was very significant.
What about across the border?
The director of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney, Professor David Schlosberg, said the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap, released in November, was crucial as both a climate mitigation policy and a regional jobs and transition policy.
The roadmap outlines plans for five renewable energy zones in the state's Central-West Orana, New England, South-West, Hunter-Central Coast and Illawarra regions.
The zones will combine renewable energy generation such as wind and solar, storage such as batteries, and high-voltage poles and wires to deliver energy to homes, businesses and industries, replacing existing power stations.
Professor Schlosberg said the plan for transitioning to clean electricity had the potential to have an important and necessary impact on emissions, and on the development of a post-carbon economy, with benefits to regions and local communities.
"The problem in NSW, of course, is that these innovative and necessary energy and transition policies coming from one part of government are countered by ongoing approvals of new and expanded fossil, gas and coal mining from other parts of government," he said.
"The overall climate policy and approach of the NSW government is contradictory and unco-ordinated - a clear result of the ongoing battle within the Coalition between reformers and delayers.
"As good as the NSW energy roadmap is, the overall position of NSW is still bad for climate, for ... local economies, for public health, and for a more sustainable future."
Renewables are not being ignored down south either. Tasmania committed $30 million to its transition from coal-fired power stations to renewable energy in 2019.
Along with a $56 million federal contribution, the state will invest in the first phase of its "Battery of the Nation" strategy this year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that, combined with the federal contribution, the Tasmanian government investment in a second interconnector between Tasmania and the mainland would help cut power prices and put an end to recent blackouts that affected families and businesses.
To the south, in 2015 when Alinta Energy announced the closure of the Northern Power Station in Port Augusta, Sam Johnson, the mayor at the time, said the city would become the renewables capital of the country.
Since then, South Australia's renewable energy boom has achieved a global milestone, with the state becoming the first major jurisdiction in the world to be powered entirely by solar energy. For just over an hour in October last year, 100 per cent of energy demand was met by solar panels alone.
The Marshall Liberal government's Climate Change Action Plan 2021-2025 includes 68 actions across seven focus areas, all aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, and achieving net-zero emissions by the year 2050.
The plan includes greening cities to cool them, supporting better farming practices, helping business and communities address climate risk, adapting natural resources, and planning for more frequent natural hazards.
South Australia will continue to export power domestically through interconnectors to NSW and Victoria and internationally.
The Andrews Labor government released Victoria's Climate Change Framework in 2016 which includes its plan for climate action until 2050 and vision for becoming a leader in climate action. Victoria has also set a 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 target.
The Victorian 2020-2021 budget included $540 million to establish six renewable energy zones, $12.6 million to bring online more than 600 megawatts of new, clean energy - enough to power 100 per cent of government buildings, including schools and public transport - and $108 million to transition to renewable energy and hydrogen projects, including Australia's first offshore wind generator.
The Victorian government will also invest $797 million in household energy efficiency.
Things are kicking off a little slower up north and in the wild west, however, although none of the states and territories can be accused of ignoring the risk of climate change the way it's being shunned federally.
Queensland's Palaszczuk government has set a target for 50 per cent of Queensland's energy to be sourced from renewables by 2030, Western Australia pitched for net-zero emissions by 2030 this month and the Northern Territory last year committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged this month that Australia should get to net-zero "as soon as possible", and preferably by 2050, the road map the nation needs to provide some stability has not been forthcoming.
Dr Jotzo said we need to put a tick in the box of the zero-emission target and then we need to move on.