The culture wars don’t look like running out of social puff anytime soon, but even so they’ve expanded their turf to the “right” to burn gas – and the planet, it seems. And then there’s the fierce fight from the building and housing lobby – again – for the “right” to keep building houses badly, allow them to be draughty and cost the earth to run.
The Master Builders Australia (which we thought, mistakenly, was growing up a bit) and their stomping angry buddies, the Housing Industry Association, have been applying enormous pressure to the state government in Queensland to buckle and delay the energy efficiency provisions of the new National Construction Code.
You’ll recall our recent article on that topic where Victoria delayed the new NCC by another six months but Queensland said it would hold the line.
According to our sources the pressure in Queensland to reverse that determination has been enormous and on a daily basis – with building minister Mick De Brenni and planning minister Steven Miles the targets, but both showing “exemplary strength” in holding the line. Despite a looming election in October next year.
“I would like to give him a big round of applause, a box of chocolates, some flowers, because they are constantly lobbying him and the government is doing a really good job of holding out,” our source said.
In Victoria, the no-gas trend is on and Tim Forcey who’s about to celebrate 100,000 followers on the Facebook page he started, My Efficient Electric Home, was thinking things were looking pretty good – like a tipping point had been reached.
Forcey said there was a “stack of good news”. Victoria was standing firm and more local government councils were banning gas.
The Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment and northern Melbourne council Merri-bek had led the charge, but the movement was now taking root in more conservative bayside suburbs.
But then the ferocious Sydney backlash erupted – backed by Murdoch media and shock jocks – from the plumbers association when the City of Sydney said it would merely look into the issue of banning gas – after Waverley Council and Parramatta signalled they would go down that route.
The language was almost unhinged, given that it’s hard to see what the problem is. There will still be plenty of water related work for plumbers no matter what we cook with. And soon we’ll be asking for water tanks and grey water pipes for the garden.
Besides there’s a tradie shortage.
But that’s not what the plumbers focused on.
Here’s a sample: The Master Plumbers Association of NSW condemns [our emphasis] the City of Sydney, the City of Parramatta and other local government areas that have proposed a ban on gas in new builds.
We understand other councils are indeed thinking of taking the step but after that outburst they may well be cowed.
(Which is why it’s important to throw flowers and applause when strong people resist the bullying. Maybe we should invite ministers De Brenni and Miles to Sydney to give the southerners a lesson in Queensland grit – and explain how to get flowers and applause thrown at them).
The plumbers also said: “The decision made by these councils appears to prioritise environmental concerns without taking practicality into account.”
Not sure what’s practical about another Black Summer bushfire season – which the scientists say will look mild in a few decades.
But these tradies are not without some glimmer of hope. “While acknowledging the importance of sustainability” they say, “it is crucial to balance environmental responsibility and ensure the functionality and efficiency of our city’s infrastructure.”
First part of the sentence is good – the second part is a non sequitur. The argument does nothing to address the need for better cleaner technology nor the need for their members to prepare for the clean energy transition.
We suspect direct pressure from the gas industry at play. We know the playbook. Nothing to do with reason or science. Just fear and emotion.
The association’s chief executive Nathaniel Smith also managed to say gas was cheaper.
“Gas provides a cost-effective and reliable energy source for heating systems, essential for the comfort and well-being of residents living in these structures. By denying architects and engineers the flexibility to utilise gas infrastructure, these LGAs are limiting their ability to create liveable spaces suitable for the diverse needs of our community.”
This is pretty well the opposite of what we know. Gas is unhealthy because it constantly emits polluting fumes, even when the stove is not in use.
“Furthermore, the restaurant industry, already heavily impacted by the ongoing global challenges such as the pandemic caused by Covid-19, will face even greater hurdles due to this ban.”
Virginia Jones who now heads the Global Cooksafe Coalition told our Electric Ideas masterclass #4 last week that getting rid of gas was a huge cost saving – on cleaning alone. Thousands of dollars.
Smith of course also pulled the tradition cord – “gas-powered stoves and commercial appliances have long been the standard in commercial kitchens due to their superior heat control and efficiency.”
First, horse and buggies were around for a long time before the motor car came into play.
Next, superior heat control and efficiency is the thing that most seduces chefs to switch to induction cooking.
Heidi Lee who heads up Beyond Zero Emissions as chief executive is not entirely surprised at the noise from the plumbers and the shock jock backlash.
“I think what we haven’t done very well is engage the industry and the public in the conversation about the transition. And it’s created this opportunity for a backlash.”
But the builders are not fooled, she says.
“Talk to anyone in the industry who is a builder or designer who will deliver those new buildings and they say, it’s a piece of cake.”
At the Green Building Council CEO Davina Rooney pointed out that part of the problem is that tradies had been promised a “gas led recovery” by the previous government and the message now was full electrification.
We need a clearer pathway to electrification, Rooney said. Australia’s rooftop revolution was made possible by clarity of process from buying to installation – unlike the US where the process was complicated and unclear, hence a slower rollout.
“The future is all electric and leading chefs are moving that way.
“It’s cheaper, better for environment, there’s a huge amount of evidence it’s got better health outcomes,” Rooney said.
“When the Nokia snake game was superseded by the Iphone, we didn’t fight for the old technology.”
Except when it’s gas.