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Driving zero emissions, ACT Greens senior polly Rattenbury motors full-speed ahead

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RECENTLY I MET with Shane Rattenbury, ACT Government Attorney General and Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability, to have a chat about his latest EV purchase, and his vision for the future of zero emissions transport in the region.

Shane has recently become an EV enthusiast having purchased a new MG ZS EV, currently regarded as the most affordable EV on the Australian market. (Main image above.)

[Q: Graham Franklin-Browne; A: Shane Rattenbury]

Firstly, the most important question. Now that you have owned your new EV for some time, do you still have that ubiquitous, and slightly annoying “EV Driver’s Grin”.

Absolutely! (he said…with a big grin)

Did you need to make any radical lifestyle changes to fit your new EV into your current motoring life?

Not really. Our daily commute, like most Australians, is less than 30 kilometres, and we can easily make weekend trips in the region. For longer journeys we can use regional charging infrastructure around the ACT or we have the option of hiring a long-distance EV once or twice a year for those rare long distance road trips. So far, we have not had to use public charging infrastructure too much, however I have quickly learned not to run the battery down to zero before charging.

Speaking of charging infrastructure, where is the ACT Government up to with the rollout of more public charging stations?

There is still some investigative work going on regarding options and locations for on street charging, especially for apartment dwellers and renters, but we are on track to complete the rollout by the end of this financial year.

Given the vastly superior range of new generation electric vehicles, and the fact that most EV drivers mainly charge at home, how urgent do you still view the rollout of public charging infrastructure?

At an intellectual level, and given the capability of modern EVs, it may not seem such an urgent problem as it once was, however in terms of building confidence with prospective buyers, supporting existing low-range EV owners, supporting EV visitors to the ACT, and to give people living in apartment buildings access to zero emissions motoring, there is most definitely an urgency to this rollout.

As part of the charging infrastructure rollout the ACT government is also examining possibilities for on-street charging locations around Canberra. It is not any easy issue and there is an element of “geographic specificity” to it. For example, where can we best locate these around Canberra; do we locate on-street charging mostly around shopping centres, or at accommodation and restaurant hubs, or tourist hubs, or do we spread them throughout urban and suburban Canberra?

We are also looking into the growing problem of combustion engine vehicles using EV parking spots, and we have some solutions in that space to trial before the end of the financial year.

Right now, EV drivers from our region are looking enviously across the border at the level of support being offered to ACT EV drivers. Is there scope for the ACT government to assist the rollout of charging infrastructure on regional roads connecting drivers to favourite Canberra tourist destinations such as the South Coast, the mountains, the local wineries, and satellite towns such as Bungendore, Braidwood, and Murrumbateman?

There is still a real gap in our ability to connect EV drivers to other parts of the region, however part of our action plan for 2021 is to engage with surrounding jurisdictions and come up with workable solutions for EV drivers travelling between the ACT and these destinations.

A couple of local businesses are beginning to look at possibilities for replacing or upgrading batteries of older electric vehicles, and from a sustainability point of view it makes sense to keep them on the road. Is there any scope for the ACT government to assist local businesses who are venturing into this field?

Honestly, it is not our focus now. Our intention is to provide support to get more zero emissions vehicles onto the road, and while recognising that there may in future be significant market opportunities for battery upgrades, it will probably remain a niche market in the short term. I would think we are still about five years away from seeing the market for aftermarket battery upgrades fully develop in Australia.

“ACT retiring EV fleet: what it means for
second-hand market”

The ACT government has publicly committed to replacing its entire vehicle fleet with 100% zero emissions vehicles by the end of this financial year, and as a comparatively early adopter, the government already has quite a lot of older EVs in its fleet.Can we expect more of these end-of-lease electric vehicles to trickle into the local second-hand market shortly?

Under its current leasing arrangements, the government replaces its vehicle fleet over a period of three years. There is an important role for government to ensure that ex-government electric vehicles make it into the second-hand EV market, but in order to facilitate the transition of the entire government fleet to zero emissions vehicles, we have extended the lease period to four years. This policy recognises the higher upfront purchase price of electric vehicles, and at the same time ensures that the transition to clean transport remains cost neutral for the people of Canberra.

There have been numerous studies conducted in Australia regarding the increasing demand for electric vehicles. Some results state that up to 60% of Australian motorists are considering making their next car an electric vehicle.

Given this level of demand, is the government concerned that the EV stimulus already offered under the Sustainable Housing Scheme will quickly erode?

Actually, this would be a great problem to have.

The Sustainable Housing Scheme provides $150 million of funding in the form of loans of up to $15,000 for ACT households to meet upfront costs of solar panels, household battery storage, zero-emission vehicles, or efficient electric appliances.

We do not know how many ACT motorists will take up this offer, but if demand is that strong and it looks like becoming oversubscribed, we will investigate ways of extending options.

Was there any industry consultation regarding the architecture of the loans under this scheme and who the providers might be?

We are currently out to tender, but there was pre-tender consultation done in the marketplace to gain feedback on design features of the scheme, and to identify the potential competitors in the market.

Finally, there are companies around Australia who, frustrated by anti-EV narrative and lack of leadership, have decided to import second-hand EVs into Australia from Japan, the UK, and Europe.

What scope does the ACT Government have for encouraging this industry locally; for example, would you consider waiving the stamp duty on the first ACT registration of an imported second-hand zero emissions vehicle?

The short answer is yes. While there is fine balance between encouraging the market for new affordable zero emissions vehicles vs the growing second-hand EV market, we need to be sensitive to the needs of this developing segment. The bottom line for the government is that we just want more zero-emissions vehicles on our roads.

RELATED ARTICLE by Shane Rattenbury, The Sydney Morning Herald:
Free rego and $15,000 loans: how to encourage electric vehicle ownership

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RELATED ARTICLES by Graham Franklin-Browne:
EVs: Mark from Queanbeyan brings ‘EVan’ to local life

EV’s: choice and affordability? A local dealer shows how

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