New Energy Roadmap Released: Australia Reaches Midway in Renewable Transition – Strategies to Enhance the Second Half

Yesterday, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) unveiled its latest roadmap, the Integrated System Plan (ISP), outlining a pathway to achieve a net-zero energy system by 2050.

What is the ISP?

The ISP represents AEMO’s plan for an optimal development pathway that includes the necessary generation, firming, and transmission to transition Australia’s energy system to net zero by 2050. This plan is the product of two years of  analysis and consultation. You can download the latest ISP here.

The ISP presents that the cheapest and most reliable way for us to get to net zero is through renewable energy, connected by transmission and distribution networks and backed up by gas-powered generation. 

Key Takeaways from the 2024 ISP

Individuals, households, small businesses, communities to play a critical role

Consumer energy resources such as rooftop solar panels, batteries, and electric vehicles are crucial and have been identified as a key element of the ISP. If coordinated effectively, these resources can significantly support the power system, reduce costs, and lower emissions – while also reducing the owner’s power bills. The 2024 ISP highlights that coordinated consumer batteries could eliminate the need for an additional $4.1 billion in grid-scale storage investment, while enhancing energy reliability and security.

The need for speed 

While progress has been made – 40% of electricity came from renewables last year, expected to rise to 50% by the end of next year – both generation and transmission project rollouts are lagging. We need new wind, solar and transmission to reach our renewables targets and keep the lights on as coal fired power stations retire.  Approval processes, investment uncertainties, cost pressures, social licence challenges, supply chain issues and workforce shortages are slowing down progress.These hurdles threaten the Federal Government’s target of 82% renewables by 2030.

Solutions Community Power Agency is advocating for 

Renewable energy access for all

Community Power Agency welcomes the news that consumers have a big role to play. We see this as a huge opportunity for people to participate in and benefit from the renewable energy transition. However, energy equity must be prioritised. Up to 30% of Australians – renters, apartment dwellers  and those with unsuitable roofs – are currently “locked out” of solar energy benefits.

Haystacks Solar Garden, Australia’s first large-scale community solar garden, serves as a model for improving solar accessibility. It allows anyone to purchase a “plot” of solar and reap the benefits on their electricity bill. Government and industry should support similar initiatives to expand solar access to those currently excluded.

Moreover, the upfront costs of many renewable technologies pose a barrier to low-income households. Ensuring these households have access to renewable opportunities is essential to prevent widening the energy equity gap.

Local Energy Hubs to boost social licence

The ISP highlights challenges around social licence (i.e gaining community acceptance and trust for renewable projects). From our extensive experience working with communities, we know that two key components of gaining a social licence are trust and fairness, achieved through meaningful participation opportunities, good relationships and access to quality information.

Community Power Agency and our allies, have been advocating to government to fund solutions to boost positive outcomes for regional communities hosting renewables infrastructure – such as a network of 50 Local Energy Hubs in Renewable Energy Zones across Australia staffed by trusted, local experts to provide information on topics such as local renewables, transmission projects and household and business electrification.

 ‘Let’s get on with it’ – Regions want real solutions, not politics

Australia needs bipartisan support for a plan to help regional communities to work with and benefit from renewable energy infrastructure in regional Australia. 

RE-Alliance and Community Power Agency have been working for more than a decade with regional communities hosting large-scale renewable energy projects and have solutions ready to fund that have come from regional communities.

RE-Alliance National Director Andrew Bray said the current discussion over Australia’s energy policy highlights how vital it is to listen to regional communities in our shift to a cleaner future.

Mr Bray said 40% of Australia’s electricity was already generated by renewable sources, increasing to 50% by the end of 2025, and regional Australia is already benefiting from hosting renewable energy infrastructure.  

“Rather than policies of distraction, we need to see all sides of politics focussing on getting on with the job we’re halfway through.”

“In this decisive decade for emissions reduction, governments can ramp up community engagement with solutions that exist right now. This will make sure the best renewable projects are supplying clean energy to homes and businesses, whilst benefiting local communities and looking after nature,” Mr Bray said.

Dr Jarra Hicks, Director, Community Power Agency said:

“We all want a say in the big changes happening in this country. But too often regional communities feel we aren’t properly consulted. These solutions can help us take hold of the shift to renewables with both hands,” Dr Hicks said.

With colleagues working in regional Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, RE-Alliance and Community Power Agency have been advocating to government to fund three key solutions to boost positive outcomes for regional communities hosting renewables infrastructure.

1. Provide trusted, local information: Fund and resource Local Energy Hubs in Renewable Energy Zones across Australia

A network of 50 Local Energy Hubs in Renewable Energy Zones across Australia staffed by trusted, local experts on topics such as local renewables and transmission projects and household electrification could provide this information and support.

2. Create a race to the top for better practice: Make the Capacity Investment Scheme (CIS) the best it can be 

Research tells us that the fastest way to deliver quality renewable energy projects is to get communities involved from the very beginning and share the benefits.

Strengthening the CIS tender guidelines is the best opportunity we have to set a high bar for community and nature outcomes in every region that will host projects. The CIS is a national framework to encourage investment in renewables. The tender guidelines determine which projects get supported, and it’s vital that those delivering positive community outcomes are prioritised.

The latest guidelines released in May now clarify and prioritise good community engagement for the first time. But, nature still needs stronger protection, and local knowledge can be better harnessed when it comes to mapping local habitats and species that need protecting. 

The CIS could also include mechanisms to drive First Nations equity in renewable energy projects, similar to successful schemes in Canada and South Africa. The First Nations Clean Energy Network has been calling for a similar model in Australia.

3. Counter mis-and-disinformation: Use organisations like the CSIRO, as trusted sources of information on renewables 

Misinformation and disinformation can gain traction when there is an information vacuum in a community about the energy shift. 

A high-trust entity, such as the CSIRO, could host a dedicated national centre to lead research on renewables and transmission projects, produce clear, publicly accessible information and undertake outreach to share these resources.

Landscape view of solar farm in Uralla, NSW, with a gum tree in the foreground.

Government is listening – new tender guidelines for renewables finally valuing  communities 

Community Power Agency and RE-Alliance – two organisations working for more than a decade with regional communities hosting large-scale renewable energy projects – have warmly welcomed the Capacity Investment Scheme (CIS) improved tender guidelines released today.

The CIS is the framework that allows the Federal Government to set how successful projects will build renewable generation and storage. It will deliver a massive 23 GW of new renewable energy generation and 9 GW of storage in the regions – which could amount to 40 new wind and solar farms and a dozen battery projects by 2030.

RE-Alliance National Director Andrew Bray said strengthening the CIS tender guidelines is the best opportunity to set a high bar for community outcomes in every region that will host projects. 

“The Capacity Investment Scheme can establish a floor for standard practice, and raise the roof with extra incentives for outstanding commitments to First Nations communities, local environments, regional communities and workers,” Mr Bray said.

“While we still have a way to go, the government has shown it is really listening. The new guidelines released today are much stronger than previous tenders.

“It’s good to see the tender guidelines emphasising First Nations equity sharing, 

revenue sharing, employment and training opportunities, and we look forward to seeing how this is enabled through the assessment process.”  Mr Bray said

Kim Mallee, Director, Community Power Agency said government funds should only be awarded to projects that are in a race to the top for better practice renewables development.

“Research has shown that the fastest way to deliver quality renewable energy projects is to do community engagement well with fair benefit sharing,” Ms Mallee said. 

“Communities know what it feels like to be listened to and have input to a major project in their region, so it’s imperative that schemes such as the CIS pick projects that perform well and contribute to positive relationships between locals and the industry as a whole.”

What are the key improvements?

  • Changes to the CIS tender guidelines released today clarify and prioritise good community engagement for the first time. 
  • Community benefit sharing is now considered an imperative for projects in the first round of short-listing as well as the second.
  • The  weighting for assessment scores related to the social elements of a project  have increased from 20% to 25%
  • While these changes are a good step forward, there is still room to improve – particularly on proponents’ commitments to delivering quality community engagement beyond successfully winning a CIS tender.

Tasmanian Government proposes first Renewable Energy Zone, setting a precedent for early community involvement

The Tasmanian Minister for Energy and Renewables has proposed a Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in North West Tasmania. Having declared the North West region as the first area to be investigated for a Renewable Energy Zone in the state in 2022, the Tasmanian Government embarked on a detailed analysis of the region throughout 2023. 

Unlike any other state jurisdiction in Australia, Tasmania prioritised a community engagement program during their scoping and investigation phase conducting a social feasibility study through their innovative “Mapping Important Places” platform. This Australian first, asked locals to identify places important to them and places that could potentially host renewable energy projects, which was then considered in the planning of the REZ. This means that the first ‘lines on a map’ are already informed by local communities.

Community Power Agency is proud to have worked with Renewables, Climate and Future Industries Tasmania in developing the Guidelines for Community Engagement, Benefit Sharing and Local Procurement for renewables in Tasmania and commend their community centred approach to REZ planning.

Our Director, Kim Mallee, who co-authored the Guidelines says “It’s great to see a State Government putting community first in the REZ planning process and prioritising the social elements of doing renewables well. Of all the States, Tasmania understands the importance and value of maintaining social licence, and it’s clear they have designed their REZ planning process with this in mind.”

With the government this week announcing a proposed REZ area for the North West along with the latest round of community engagement  to accompany it,  we are excited to see the Tasmanian community and renewables industry contribute their thoughts on how to do renewables well.  Community Power Agency would encourage anyone with an interest in the North West or renewables in Tasmania to contribute to the three focus areas of REZ design currently being consulted:

  1. Proposed REZ area
  2. Community benefit sharing 
  3. Market offering and access scheme

New guide shows how solar farms can improve biodiversity

Our new guide developed in New England sets out how new solar farm projects can improve biodiversity on the same sites.

The Building Better Biodiversity on Solar Farms Guide presents innovative strategies and tools to restore nature and integrate regenerative farming techniques while producing solar energy. The guide has been developed in collaboration with ecologists, wildlife experts, researchers, farmers, Cultural Knowledge Holders, Landcare groups and renewable energy developers.

“Planning a renewable energy development offers a chance to consider shared land use,” says co-author Heidi McElnea, Regional Coordinator at Community Power Agency. 

“We know from projects being developed in Asia, Europe, the US and now emerging in Australia, that conservation and agriculture don’t need to come off second best to renewable energy. 

“It’s also a chance to engage and employ local First Nations ranger groups, and tap into a long history of holistic land management while supporting that important re-connection to Country,” Ms McElnea said. 

While the guide is tailored to the unique ecosystem of the New England Tableland bioregion in northern NSW, its principles are relevant across the broad Australian landscape. 

The guide emphasises that well-designed solar farms can achieve a net gain in biodiversity, without compromising solar generation capacity. 

Group of local landcare members gather along a fence line in a paddock to view tree planting.
Local Landcare members view tree planting on solar host farmer’s land in New England.
Remo Boscarino-Gaetano and Dr Eric Nordberg show Heidi McElnea fauna monitoring systems on the University's solar farm. They're walking through the middle of a solar array.
University of New Englands’s Remo Boscarino-Gaetano and Dr Eric Nordberg show guide co-author Heidi McElnea fauna monitoring systems on the University’s solar farm.

“By integrating biodiversity considerations from the outset of planning a new solar farm, we can achieve substantial benefits. This includes minimising negative impacts, fostering on-site biodiversity enhancement and collaborating with neighbouring communities to bolster local biodiversity,” says co-author David Carr, Founder and Director, Stringybark Ecological.

Moreover, the guide outlines co-benefits for industry, illustrating how developments can be future-proofed and streamline the approval process by exceeding current legislated requirements. By achieving biodiversity increases and leveraging ecosystem services, industry players can also build constructive relationships with host communities and Traditional Owners, while reducing land use conflict. 

The guide couldn’t come at a more critical time, as Australia grapples with the urgency of addressing the intersecting challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Dr Eric Nordberg from the University of New England is a researcher in the new field of conservoltaics, and has contributed some of his findings to the guide. 

“Similar to artificial reefs in aquatic ecosystems, solar farms can serve as hubs for biodiversity enhancement, introducing structural complexity into the environment and providing crucial shelter and habitat for various species,” Dr Nordberg said.

The guide has been funded by The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal, and will be launched in collaboration with Glen Innes Natural Resources Advisory Committee and Southern New England Landcare.