11 October 2023
The failure to properly consult with regional communities affected by large-scale renewable energy projects and transmission infrastructure risks delaying or derailing the transition to a decarbonised energy grid, according to Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines.
In a submission to the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner’s Community Engagement Review, Dr Haines has called for regional communities to be meaningfully involved in the planning of renewable energy projects, and receive structural benefit and regional development from these projects.
Dr Haines supports strong action on climate change, including the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, but is also committed to ensuring such projects in regional Australia are appropriate, and the voices of local people are considered in the development process. “Regional Australians should share in the economic benefits of renewable energy projects built close to where they live, and they should have a say in the planning of these large-scale developments,” Dr Haines said.
“What I’ve heard from landowners and farmers in places like Meadow Creek and Bobinawarrah, Ruffy and Strathbogie, is that public consultation by project developers has been disappointing at best and non-existent at worse so far.“My submission makes 15 recommendations strongly supporting the need for state and federal governments, as well as regulatory bodies, to set clear and firm standards for community engagement and benefit sharing of renewable energy projects.”
Dr Haines’ recommendations include:
• Clearly defining land that is not suitable for renewable energy infrastructure development, including land that has high agricultural value, fragile ecosystems, or in high-risk natural disaster zones;
• Ensuring renewable energy project developments do not adversely impact the availability or affordability of insurance for neighbouring landholders;
• Establishing community engagement guidelines that require developers to broadly engage local communities early and honestly, with genuine avenues for addressing community concerns; and
• Requiring all new large-scale renewable energy projects offer at least 20 per cent of project equity to local investors in a community co-investment funding round before final planning approval can be granted.
Announced in July, the Review is led by Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner Andrew Dyer and was established to advise on how best to engage with communities about future renewable energy and transmission projects.
The Review has accepted public submissions and conducted roundtables across the country, including in Wangaratta on September 27.
Testimonials and evidence provided in the written submissions and during the roundtables will inform a final report due by the end of the year.
Dr Haines and Independent Senator for the ACT David Pocock worked closely with Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen to put the interests of regional Australia front and centre, ensuring the Review’s Terms of Reference would properly cover the opportunities and challenges being faced in Indi and across regional, rural and remote areas.
“Australia’s renewable energy transition is happening in the regions. Indi is home to two Renewable Energy Zones and our communities deserve to be consulted and provided opportunities to seize the long-term benefits of the renewables boom already underway,” Dr Haines said.
“I am proud to have initiated this process, attended a roundtable alongside community members, and made a formal submission to the Review, so the voices of local people can inform how community engagement should be done as we transition to renewables.”
Dr Haines has led the way in the push for communities to benefit from the transition to renewable energy, including through the introduction of the of Australian Local Power Agency Bill in the last parliament, and the development of the Local Power Plan, which forms part of Dr Haines’ submission to the Review.
Dr Haines’ full submission can be viewed here.