Who will gas crisis hit hardest, industry or consumers?

Gas flame from industrial chimney against cloudy sky (gas deals)
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State, territory and federal government ministers will meet on Wednesday to discuss Australia’s gas crisis and how best to protect local manufacturing from supply shocks.

Australia’s biggest manufacturers have warned local jobs would be in jeopardy unless gas supplies were held back from being exported. Energy prices have soared due to ‘perfect storm’ of factors that include the east-coast cold snap, the war in Ukraine, and coal-fired power station outages that are also putting gas reserves in demand.

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But according to an expert from RMIT, low-income households and renters will likely be hit hardest by Australia’s unfolding gas crisis.

“The gas crisis will have uneven consequences on the health and wellbeing of Australians,” said Dr Nicola Willand, senior lecturer in the School or Property, Construction and Project Management at RMIT University.

“Low-income households and renters are likely to be hit hardest. Low-income households may already feel the impact of increased housing and living costs and may need to choose between meat and heat. Renters will be particularly disadvantaged: they tend to live in less energy efficient homes than owner occupiers, are often on a low income, have little choice in suitable properties and lack the agency to retrofit their homes.

“Fear of rising gas prices is also likely to lead to reduced heating in many households. Cold homes can lead to mould, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, an increase in infectious diseases and avoidable winter deaths. Bill anxiety can also cause mental health problems, and people may stop inviting friends over to their house, which can lead to social isolation.

“One of the underlying problems for the crisis is the poor quality of our housing stock. Well-designed, energy efficient homes are resilient to energy price fluctuations. Instead, Australian homes are notoriously leaky, uninsulated and have been likened to ‘glorified tents’. While there are some energy efficiency requirements for new housing, there are no standards for the quality of existing homes,” Dr Willand said.

“Investments in home insulation and efficient appliances are needed urgently to reduce residential energy demand and increase energy security. Insulation is one of the most cost-effective retrofit measures, however, insulation is rarely subsidised. Other long-term initiatives may include minimum energy efficiency standards for rental homes, targeted retrofit subsidies and access to solar power for vulnerable households, social housing retrofits, more effective energy concessions and better information tools, such as disclosure of home energy ratings for existing dwellings.

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“To address this immediate gas crisis, everyone can and should play a role. We can ensure energy efficiency in our own rental properties. We can watch out for signs of energy hardship among family members and friends, for example cold rooms and mould behind curtains. We can help family members, friends and neighbours with simple, inexpensive retrofits like draught proofing strips and curtains with pelmets. We can help people with limited internet skills or problems with vision or hearing to negotiate the best energy contract—one phone call can save hundreds of dollars. And we can provide shelter and warm food during cold spells.”  

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