Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines urges the Government to fund measures to improve engagement with regional communities affected by renewable energy infrastructure projects in the Federal Budget, after the Government received a report mapping out potential fixes for current practices.
The Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner Andrew Dyer’s final report on the independent Community Engagement Review for renewable energy infrastructure projects was published on Friday, making nine recommendations for reform.
“Australia’s renewable energy rollout is happening in the regions, but the failure to properly consult with regional communities affected by large-scale renewable energy projects and transmission infrastructure risks delaying or derailing this transition and selling regional Australia short,” Dr Haines said
“This report is a roadmap for improving how people are consulted when energy projects are developed in their communities, and I welcome its delivery.
“The renewable energy transition is well underway in regional and rural Australia. The Government have agreed to the recommendations in principle, but the implementation of this report is a matter of urgency.
“However, this report shows the complexity of implementing these significant and urgently needed reforms, due to the shared responsibility across the Commonwealth and the states and territories.
“If the Government is serious about meeting its net-zero targets and gaining community support for the energy transition, they are going to have to work quickly and effectively with state and territory governments, energy developers and regional communities to get the transition right.”
Dr Haines has identified measures which could be funded quickly, including setting up an independent body to design and operate a developer rating scheme, and for the Government to set up a communications program that provides local communities with details and timeframes for the energy transition.
“I say to the Federal Government get on and fund measures from this report in the Budget, and to make it top of the agenda for the next meeting of the Energy and Climate Change Ministerial Council– that’s the national cabinet of energy ministers,” Dr Haines said.
As a regional Independent MP who supports efforts to move to renewable energy, Dr Haines recognised the damage being done to regional communities by poor consultation and bad behaviour by some developer cowboys.
“Farmers, landowners and concerned community members in my electorate of Indi, like many across the regional and rural Australia have been disappointed with the lack of information and 2inadequate consultation by some renewable energy companies. They deserve to be engaged early and meaningfully in the development of energy projects happening at their farmgate,” Dr Haines said.
“There is a power and knowledge imbalance between renewable energy developers and local communities, and the Federal Government needs to step up to ensure regional Australians get the information they need to make good decisions, and that they properly benefit from the renewable energy rollout. It shouldn’t be up to local communities to do this work alone.”
This was reflected in the surveys undertaken in the Review, which found that 92 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with the extent to which project developers engaged the local community, and 93 per cent disagreed that they received a satisfactory resolution to the concern they raised with the project developer.
“This is an alarming finding and highlights the urgency for the Commonwealth to get this right,” Dr Haines said.
Independent MP Dr Haines made a submission to the review, which included detailed recommendations and reflected the experiences of constituents in her electorate of Indi in North East Victoria.
“I support the recommendations but would have liked to see them more specifically address my constituents’ concerns,” Dr Haines said.
“The mapping of suitable land for renewables development and ‘no-go’ sites such as high-value agricultural land, is something that I called for in my submission to the review, yet the report doesn’taddress the protection of prime agricultural land, increases in insurance premiums and emergencies management considerations in the way I had hoped.”
The report makes a series of recommendations and implementation considerations under six broad themes, including to:
- Improve community engagement
- Ensure best practice complaint handling, backed up with a new, relevant ombudsman scheme in each state
- Improve community understanding of what is to be deployed in their region as well as where, when and why
- Better engage the community to identify opportunities and enable benefit sharing
The federal government review was established to advise on how best to engage with regional communities about future renewable energy and transmission projects, with the final report given to Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen in December. Dr Haines worked with Minister Bowen, and fellow Independent ACT Senator David Pocock on the Terms of Reference.
Led by Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner Andrew Dyer, the review held a series of roundtables across the country, meeting with local governments, businesses, landowners and 3 community groups invited to participate by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.
Meetings were held in Wangaratta in Dr Haines’ electorate of Indi in September with people from the communities of Meadow Creek, Barnawartha, the Strathbogie Ranges and beyond sharing their experiences.
Read the Community Engagement Review report here.
Read Dr Haines’ submission to the Review here.