Is regional benefit sharing the new frontier for Australia’s renewable energy shift? 

Read our discussion paper: Regional Benefit Sharing – Creating strategic impacts for regions that host multiple renewable energy projects

Australia’s changing from fossil fuels to renewable energy isn’t just a technological shift, but also a spatial shift. As states ramp up renewable energy deployment, there has been an influx of infrastructure proposals in regional communities, most notably for those in state-designated ‘renewable energy zones’ (REZs).

Community benefit sharing 101

Amid the energy shift, community benefit sharing (CBS) has emerged as a crucial strategy to support regions hosting new renewable energy infrastructure. CBS involves sharing the benefits of renewable energy projects with the communities hosting them. The aim is to integrate these projects into local communities, contributing to their long-term vitality and success of the region.

Community benefit sharing typically involves financial support for community benefit programs, reaching not only immediate neighbours but also nearby towns and villages. These benefits can take various forms, including grants, partnerships, scholarships, or opportunities for community co-ownership. Crucially, the community plays a role in deciding what the benefits should be as without genuine community engagement, project proponents run the risk of CBS being perceived as an attempt to “buy out” or “bribe” the community. 

Why regional coordination of benefit sharing is needed

While Australia’s renewable energy sector has made strides in individual project-level benefit sharing, the challenge now is to efficiently and thoughtfully deliver multiple projects within designated regions. To maximise benefits and minimise adverse impacts, strategic planning is essential. Regions, governments, and industry must coordinate benefit sharing programs to empower communities and avoid duplicating efforts. 

Regional benefit sharing is defined as the strategic aggregation of community benefit sharing programs associated with energy projects that are located in a common geographic region. Whilst a current working model has not yet emerged in Australia there are 6 key reasons why it should:

  1. Reducing engagement fatigue: Streamlining local engagement avoids overburdening communities and ensures effective solutions both in the set up and ongoing management of programs.
  2. Changing community expectations: Evolving community expectations demand informed involvement and strategic outcomes from energy projects that address local concerns.
  3. Diminishing small community projects to fund: Small community grant programs run out of suitable projects over time, limiting their impact. Coordination enables larger, more impactful initiatives.
  4. Big picture legacy: Pooled funding can tackle long-term challenges, like climate resilience, public health issues and the shift in our energy system.
  5. Leverage: Pooled funding opens doors to larger grants and funding streams.
  6. Expanding Reach: Coordinated benefit sharing offers innovative ways to distribute benefits, reaching disadvantaged communities.

Watch our webinar on Regional Benefit Sharing featuring a presentation by CPA authors Kim Mallee and Dr Jarra Hicks, followed by insights and Q&A with fellow leading experts: Lisa Lumsden, The Next Economy; Kate Hook, RE-Alliance; and Luke Osborne, Stride Renewables.


How does regional benefit sharing work? 

Typically a developer of an energy infrastructure project will allocate funds towards community benefit sharing within a certain geographic area that hosts the project. When done well the community co-designs the benefit sharing program and its reach with the developer. This could create a positive impact for direct neighbours, nearby towns and villages or even the region at large. This practice has been fit for purpose where there has been only one of very few projects in a single region.

Regional benefit sharing works to coordinate multiple projects benefit sharing efforts at the neighbourhood and local community level whilst also pool and enable benefit sharing initiatives at a regional level. It is critical that regional benefit sharing models do not supersede or inhibit a project’s ability to deliver benefit sharing programs at the neighbourhood and local level and build trusted relationships with the host community. The split of funds between local or regional benefit sharing programs can be flexible over time and designed with the host community. 

Clarification Needed on Local Government Contributions

Victoria is the first jurisdiction to have a formalised statewide and consistent approach to calculating and collecting infrastructure contributions to Council from renewable energy developments. For remaining jurisdictions this is a lost opportunity to ensure that the economic prosperity and development in a local government area also contributes to the ongoing renewal of public infrastructure and services of that area.

NSW Councils for example, have the opportunity to negotiate voluntary planning agreements with developers when they are assessed as Major Projects. However this has led to varying outcomes ranging from receiving nothing to Councils receiving all of the potential community benefit sharing funds in place of the funds going directly to community. This scenario can inadvertently pit Council against the community in negotiations with the developer in the middle. The Victorian model of Payment in Lieu of Rates should be explored for delivery in other states as the number of projects and quantity of community benefit sharing funds per project are testament to its viability. 

Key recommendations 

Community Power Agency has been at the forefront of understanding and developing better practice community benefit sharing, through authoring multiple community benefit sharing guides delivering industry training, and working in Northern Tasmania, Gippsland in Victoria, and New England NSW REZ regions. We have compiled our insights into the Regional Benefit Sharing discussion paper which synthesises CBS experiences and models and provides key recommendations for government and industry stakeholders.

Strategic coordination is essential for benefit sharing to cultivate a social licence, a crucial component in achieving a fair and fast energy shift in regions hosting multiple energy infrastructure projects. 

Community Power Agency recommends:

  1. All state governments co-design with communities regional benefit sharing programs, ensuring local community members are embedded in the governance structures.
  2. Regional benefit sharing models are designed in a way that enables energy project developers to deliver both regional benefits as well as neighbourhood and local benefit sharing programs.
  3. If REZ Access Fees are charged, they serve as a safety net or coordination of benefit sharing, rather than a substitute for individual project level benefit sharing initiatives.
  4. Federal Government dedicates resources to the various entities involved in designing regional benefit sharing in order to contribute to nation-wide social licence for the energy shift.
  5. State governments legislate the amount project proponents must contribute to the local government where their project is located, in lieu of rates or as infrastructure contributions. This payment should be separate and additional to the project’s community benefit sharing funds.
Bird sits on top of solar panel

Can ‘conservoltaics’ help relieve land-use conflict in New England’s renewable energy zone? 

An emerging challenge in the transition to clean energy in regions such as New England, NSW, is land-use conflict, and the new practice of conservoltaics may be one solution. Conservoltaics refers to the process of combining solar energy production and biodiversity conservation and restoration.

Glenn Christie of Succession Ecology is rolling out conservoltaic initiatives (or “ecovoltaics” as he calls it) with great results in South Australia. Christie works with developers to build biodiversity on mid to large-scale solar farms in the red soil country.

“In this arid climate, we focus on native ground cover as a means to improve biodiversity along with efficiency for energy generation,” Christie said.

“Animals such as lizards and birds can thrive in the protected environment beneath the solar panels. Plus, the groundlayer keeps the panels cooler, thereby improving efficiency. Having groundcover  results in less dust, so once again, efficiency is improved and maintenance costs are reduced.” 

It’s a practice that a local collaboration is looking to bring to the New England renewable energy zone (REZ), situated halfway between Sydney and Brisbane on land traditionally managed by First Nations Custodians including Anaiwan, Banbai, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr. The REZ is part of a NSW government plan to produce 6-8GW of clean energy as aging coal-fired power stations are retired.  

While the shift from fossil fuels to renewables will help mitigate climate change, community members and environmentalists are concerned about the local impact that construction of wind and solar farms may have on wildlife habitats and ecology. 

The concerns follow conservation losses experienced recently in the region due to Black Summer bushfires, drought and other development such as new industrial and housing estates. 

Shared land-use options for agricultural land 

In the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ), sites chosen for renewable energy projects are often land that was previously used for agriculture.

This can raise concerns within nearby communities about changes in land-use. People worry that these solar, wind or battery projects will reduce the land available for agriculture, which can have local economic and supply flow-on effects. 

Details are in the caption following the image

Spotted marsh frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) found within a solar farm in Armidale, NSW, Australia. Photographer: Eric Nordberg, 2022.

The practice of agrisolar (or agrivoltaics), in which sheep graze under panels, bees are kept or vegetables tended in interrows between arrays, for example, is beginning to address the potential conflict between land-use for renewable energy and agriculture. Early studies of co-benefits are promising, and in 2021, Clean Energy Council published the Australian Guide to Agrisolar for Large-Scale Solar to collate the early findings of agrisolar research and practice in Australia and internationally.   

Could a similar harmony be found to exist with conservation and renewable energy generation? Is it possible to not just avoid high conservation areas, but also to improve biodiversity on sites where under the prior agricultural land-use and drought it had suffered?

University of New England’s Eric Nordberg and James Cook University’s Lin Schwarzkopf have recently published a research summary of initial findings of the role solar farms can play in improving biodiversity, along with identifying gaps where further research is needed.

“The benefit of renewable energy in reducing carbon emissions is well known. But more work is needed to understand how solar farms can benefit wildlife,” Mr Nordberg said in an article he wrote in February for The Conversation. 

“Research is also lacking on how to locate, configure and manage solar farms to best enhance biodiversity. Collaborations between industry, land managers and researchers are needed so clean energy production and conservation can go hand-in-hand.”

CPA secures FRRR funding to develop a guide to bring better biodiversity on solar farms in the New England

CPA has secured a grant to co-ordinate a Guide to Better Biodiversity on Solar Farms, with support from the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal’s Strengthening Rural Communities Program.

The Guide will include strategies and case-studies to improve conservation planning and implementation on solar farms, with a focus on plant and animal communities that are endemic to the Northern Tablelands and Nandewar bioregions, in which the New England sits. It will draw on the collective experience of ecologists, conservation groups, landowners and solar farm operators.

Dave Carr is Principal Ecologist for Armidale-based consultancy Stringybark Ecological and will be a key collaborator on the Guide. For 30 years he has worked to restore and protect native vegetation, with a focus on the Nandewar and Northern Tablelands bioregions, where the New England REZ is located.  

“Solar farms present a set of opportunities and constraints for managing biodiversity in a fragmented landscape,” Mr Carr wrote in a letter of support for the application CPA made for grant funding to FRRR to produce the Guide. 

“Opportunities include: improvements in the condition and structure of the groundlayer vegetation; enhancement of habitat for fauna that depend on the groundlayer; improvement in extent and condition of riparian zones; and establishment of connectivity for wildlife using boundary plantings.” 

In Europe, a collaboration called the Renewable Grids Initiative (RGI) has been instrumental in improving conservation outcomes through the renewable energy transition overseas.

Under the guidance of RGI, a coalition of Europe’s 29 largest environmental NGOs and grid operators “pledged to work in partnership to ensure that the goals of grid modernisation and environmental protection can be achieved side by side.”

A sign in a grassy field

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Through the Renewable Grids Initiative, conservation outcomes feature in the development of transmission corridors, which double as meadows or habitat  for animals such as deer. Pic: https://renewables-grid.eu/

“It gives us hope to see collaborations such as RGI which bring diverse stakeholders together to plan and achieve better conservation outcomes for renewable energy projects,” said Heidi McElnea, who is coordinating the consultation and production of the Guide for CPA.   

“What we’re lacking right now in the New England is relevant information which can streamline the process for planning solar farms which include improved conservation outcomes,” McElnea said. 

“We’re fortunate in the production of the Guide to be able to draw upon research and experience from elsewhere in Australia and overseas, as well as our diverse groups’ expertise in the New England. It will be exciting to have more sustainable developments underway which provide an opportunity for tracking and improving biodiversity outcomes. The potential is enormous.”

The Guide to Better Biodiversity on Solar Farms will be workshopped with stakeholder groups in late 2023 and available in print and online in early 2024. We thank the FRRR for supporting this important work.

References

Renewables Grid Alliance https://renewables-grid.eu/

The Nature Conservancy, 2023,  Power of Place Report 2023 https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/FINAL_TNC_Power_of_Place_National_Executive_Summary_5_2_2023.pdf

Clean Energy Council, 2021, Australian Guide to Agriculture for Large-Scale Solar https://assets.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/documents/resources/reports/agrisolar-guide/Australian-guide-to-agrisolar-for-large-scale-solar.pdf

Nordberg, E.J., Julian Caley, M., Schwarzkopf, L., 2021, Designing solar farms for synergistic commercial and conservation outcomes, Solar Energy, Volume 228, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0038092X21008562?via%3Dihub

Nordberg, E.J. & Schwarzkopf, L. (2023) Developing conservoltaic systems to support biodiversity on solar farms. Austral Ecology, 48, 643– 649. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/aec.13289 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/aec.13289

Nordberg, E., 2023, Win-win: how solar farms can double as havens for our wildlife The Conversation

United Nations, 2015, Transforming our World, Agenda for Sustainable Development, accessed https://sdgs.un.org/sites/default/files/publications/21252030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development%20web.pdf

Parker, G.E & Greene, L., 2014, Biodiversity Guidance for Solar Developments BRE National Solar Centre https://www.bre.co.uk/filelibrary/pdf/Brochures/NSC-Biodiversity-Guidance.pdf

Enquist CAF and colleagues, 2017, Foundations of translational ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15(10), pp. 541–550. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.1733

Offshore wind turbines producing renewable energy and green energy in the Belgian North Sea

Empowering tomorrow’s workforce: learnings from Gippsland and Victoria

The energy transition is bringing the promise of jobs to regional Australian communities. Some communities will be experiencing an influx of energy projects for the first time. Others, like the Latrobe Valley (‘The Valley’) in Gippsland, Victoria, are moving from coal fired power generation to new decentralised renewable energy projects. Our approach to workforce readiness and coordination in regional Australia will vary depending on the skill sets available within the local labour market. For example, preparing the renewable energy workforce in The Valley will be a very different endeavour compared to the New England region in New South Wales.

For regions that have played a key role in producing coal fired power, news of alternative livelihoods on the horizon is providing a much needed sense of security as the coal power sector contracts. As we decarbonise, we must embed protections, such as skills (re)training and alternate job creation, for workers and communities economically reliant on the fossil fuel industry. These are important aspects of a just transition – a transition that is fair and just. 

In this way, the task of worker transition and workforce readiness has many moving parts; like building a house, foundations need to be laid, and things need to fit together at incremental stages. Flourishes can be added, but the labour of some key groups will be instrumental in making it a smooth process. In the case of Gippsland, workforce readiness and transition is being shaped by government (state, local and to a lesser degree, federal), industry (coal and renewable energy), education providers (TAFE, Universities and registered training organisations (RTOs)), unions and community. Importantly, much of this work has been done through partnerships and collaborations.

The Victorian state government has ambitious renewable energy targets – 40% by 2025 and net zero by 2045. To achieve this, the government has established a mix of policies and initiatives including: 

  • six renewable energy zones (REZ) across the state (one of which sits across Gippsland)
  • a new government body to coordinate transmission infrastructure upgrades and development (VicGrid), and 
  • Australia’s first offshore wind (OSW) zone located off the coast of Gippsland. 

The Latrobe Valley, in Gippsland, Victoria has produced the state’s energy for over 100 years. In 2017, one of its brown coal power stations Hazelwood – Australia’s (then) most polluting – closed with only 5 months’ notice, meaning 400 staff and 300 contractors were set to lose their jobs. A range of reactive measures put in place meant that many workers were able to find new roles, move into retirement or retrain. Yet the lesson from Hazelwood has been that worker transition takes time and has deep flow on impacts in communities. There are now three remaining coal power stations all likely to close by 2045, meaning a carefully orchestrated approach to moving workers into new industries will need to take place. Sitting at the nexus of a fading industry and an emerging one means the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland are arguably at the epicentre of Victoria’s energy transition.

But what does this mean for the workers? How can jobs be created in a coordinated way? Who are the players shaping regional livelihoods?

Government: Federal and state 

As we mentioned in a recent blog, the federal government recently formed Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) and commissioned it to undertake a Clean Energy Capacity Study. The study is yet to be finalised and findings released, yet the energy transition continues apace. Like the Net Zero Authority, these are critical pieces of work that are catching up on a decade of delay in federal politics.

While there are several election promises that are yet to materialise, the Victorian state government has a few examples of tangible workforce coordination efforts already in place. Its promise to revive the former State Electricity Commission (SEC) was largely well received. The SEC’s remit centres on funding and investing in skills, training and coordination of the renewable energy transition workforce. The state government anticipates that the SEC and the state’s renewable targets will create upwards of 59, 000 new energy related jobs. Attention is also on supporting secondary students with stronger VCE pathways to working in the renewable energy sector. Soon vocational education and training delivered to secondary students (VETDSS) will become compulsory, with renewable energy subjects being taught in the future. Further investment has been earmarked for a SEC Centre of Training Excellence that will oversee courses and accreditation for the renewable energy industry, and hydrogen and wind worker specific training centres.

The Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA)

More locally, the Latrobe Valley Authority, a decentralised arm of state government that oversees regional development in the Valley has been working to map, analyse and coordinate energy sector employment. In partnership with the local university, Federation Uni and TAFE Gippsland, the LVA produced the Gippsland Energy Skills Mapping Report. They’ve also just released a Latrobe Valley and Gippsland transition plan.

Education providers

Melbourne University has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Flotation Energy, an offshore wind company with plans to develop in the Gippsland OSW zone. Their collaboration will extend from a research / industry partnership, to providing a pipeline of graduates ready for the OSW sector.

Federation University, which has campuses in Gippsland and Ballarat, plays a significant role in preparing the workforce of tomorrow. Through its Asia Pacific Renewable Energy Training Centre (APRETC), it offers training on Australia’s first 20-metre replica wind tower and it is the first provider of apprenticeships for Blade Technicians. APRETC is a unique industry, government and tertiary provider collaboration and is a Global Wind Organisation (GWO) certified training institute. Federation Uni is also a partner in the Morwell Innovation Centre, Gippsland Hi-Tech Precinct – along with TAFE Gippsland, Gippsland Tech School and Latrobe City Council.

TAFE Gippsland offers certificate III in engineering with a pathway to a degree in engineering offered in collaboration with Federation Uni. It also offers short qualifications like the course in New Energy Technology Systems that trains electricians (and others) to become accredited technicians in the design and installation of new energy systems that are grid-connected. The TAFE is also working on developing the certifications needed to work in the offshore wind sector. 

TAFE Gippsland and the ‘jobs and skills expo working group’, led by TAFE Gippsland, Latrobe Valley Authority and Gippsland East Local Learning & Employment Network GELLEN, recently held a youth jobs and skills expo to coincide with the Gippsland New Energy Conference. Over 300 high school students from the region got a taste of the many different available jobs and pathways. With the long lead times, young people are well positioned to benefit from new industries such as OSW, but more needs to be done to get students excited about the opportunities and to have clear pathways for them. This year’s jobs and skills expo will hopefully be the spark for some local secondary students to become the renewable energy workers of the future.

Industry

Star of the South (SoS), Australia’s most advanced OSW project, has been on the ground in Gippsland for several years, participating in various region wide forums and initiatives. Recently SoS commissioned and released a report that analysed the compatibility of skills from other sectors and the OSW industry. Targeted primarily at workers looking to transition, it identified that there is a high amount of skills cross-over from coal, gas and oil, and offshore oil and maritime services with OSW.

Industry representatives, from old energy to new energy, actively participate in a monthly Regional Skills Network coordinated by TAFE Gippsland. It has 40-60 members from the energy sector, and there is a real sense of collaboration; the sector is coming together and genuinely trying to build something new and effective.

Worker transition at Yallourn power station

In 2021 EnergyAustralia, owners of Yallourn power station in the Latrobe Valley, Gippsland, confirmed they would be closing the power station earlier than planned with closure finalised by 2028. Having seen firsthand the community impacts of a poorly managed closure with nearby Hazelwood power station in 2017, EnergyAustralia committed to a worker and community focused transition approach.

EnergyAustralia has adopted a transition plan worth 10 million dollars. A core part of this has been listening to the needs of workers (including contractors), and supporting them to retrain, establish a business or move into retirement. For those wanting to retrain, EnergyAustralia is paying for their studies (with no cap on course costs), offering study time and flexible hours.

190 of the 500 workforce at Yallourn expressed an interest in finding out more about working in the clean energy sector and 20 indicated a first preference to work in offshore wind ahead of other local industries. EnergyAustralia has been collaborating with offshore wind proponents in the region to look at ways these workers can transition into this new emerging industry. It’s early days for this exciting initiative, but long lead times and industry collaboration are important first steps.

But is this all enough?

There is a significant amount of effort being put into not only preparing Gippsland (and Victorians) for the jobs of tomorrow, while also ensuring that we can achieve our emissions reduction targets as we have the skills, knowledge and expertise to do so. But are all the activities listed above enough? 

Gippslanders still fear that the large-scale projects, like transmission lines, battery storage projects, renewables and OSW will still require a large influx of workers, which will put pressure on already strained services like housing, childcare and education. Although the region may already have a workforce with similar skills to new emerging sectors like offshore wind (OSW), it’s not a simple case of switching jobs for jobs; there is already a strain on the skills and training system and a shortage of apprentices in trades. 

In Gippsland, locals often refer to the ‘De-Sal effect’, being the rapid and region-wide drain of apprentices and skilled workers drawn to a big infrastructure project, in this case the Wonthaggi desalination plant that became operational in 2012. Young apprentices were lured to the higher wages offered by the project, leaving not only their apprenticeships behind, but later when the project ended they also left the region in search of the next opportunity. This drain of workers from Gippsland created a sense of boom and bust, with long term ripple effects still felt through the social fabric of the community.

Renewable energy projects tend to have uneven job cycles with more jobs during construction than in operations; hence, there is a real need to try to sequence construction timelines across the region to help create a pipeline of work. Similarly, there is a whole suite of professions in the wider renewables ecosystem, such as ecology studies, cultural heritage, community engagement, maintenance, operations and project management that all inherently benefit from being locally-specific and locally based. Global companies need to be incentivised or regulated to have local offices so that the full benefits of renewable energy employment can be realised by regional host communities.

Coordinating the workforce in order to meet our emissions targets, is not solely about having the right number of training and job spots. It’s also about supporting people to know about them and have the confidence to take them up. Reaching labour needs of the transition will require supporting people into the workforce who face significant barriers, e.g. long term unemployed, migrants, folks on correction orders – these people will require specialised and coordinated support at a very local level to be able to join the workforce opportunities of renewables, but with a lot of very rewarding outcomes.

But if transition is done right, and locals across Gippsland are supported into meaningful, well-paid work in their communities, then the opportunities are huge! The energy transition can play a lead role in creating thriving, dynamic, connected and prosperous regional futures.

By Elianor Gerrard, Community Power Agency Engagement Coordinator

Building local capacity now to get renewable-ready

The renewable energy transition could be the opportunity needed to breathe new life into rural and regional Australia. It offers a huge opportunity, too, for regions who have hosted fossil fuel extraction or processing as one of their key economic activities in the past. 

More to the point, the renewable energy transition needs rural and regional Australia in order to meet the emission-reduction targets set by state and federal governments to prevent excessive global warming and to keep the lights on as coal fired power stations retire. The time is now for governments to work collaboratively with regional communities around issues such as workforce and local business readiness. When Prime Minister Albanese announced at the Jobs and Skills Summit in September 2022 that he would task Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) to commission a capacity study on the clean energy workforce, JSA was not yet in existence. While its research, once completed, may prove useful in forming a national approach, starting from scratch is a time and cost-intensive approach that has seen deadlines being pushed back for its Clean Energy Capacity Study, originally expected in June this year.

Since then, we’ve also seen the announcement  of a new National Net Zero Authority

While a strategic, coordinated and quality approach is much needed, we’ve no time to lose in readying our regional and rural communities for the changes that are already, in many cases, underway. 

We need an approach to workforce and local procurement that works to build capacity in existing organisations and businesses in communities; even while those at the top are deliberating on how to solve the skill shortages and worker availability that we are seeing across the country. 

There’s a whole suite of jobs created by renewable energy projects coming to regional towns, such as: 

  • Professional services such as cultural heritage and archeology, planning, surveying, ecology, project management, business, communications, recruitment, engagement, technology and agricultural consultants.
  • Civil services such as earthworks and road construction, along with fencing and landscaping. 
  • Trades of different kinds, with electricians, building and construction among the most in demand. 
  • Supporting services such as hospitality, health and accommodation.

Regional and rural communities are well-placed to navigate resourcing and preparing for the renewable energy transition. Yet, they need assurance that the work they are doing, or the initiatives they may take to scale-up to meet new opportunities from the clean energy industry, will not be undermined by city-based decision-makers who are currently shaping a centrally-controlled, rather than co-designed approach to the challenge.

This lack of involvement creates an environment of uncertainty for our regional communities that does not favour growth and capacity building.    

Community groups, small businesses and social services that hold regional communities together as they adapt to changing local environments – neighbourhood centres, crisis accommodation for those feeling the impacts of a sudden tightening of the housing market, and assistance with job readiness – are also key players in managing social cohesion, as well as workforce coordination. 

Last month, the Centre for Economic Policy Development released Making our way: Adaptive capacity and climate transition in Australia’s regional economies. The study recommends that with an “adaptive capacity framework, governments can better understand the specific strengths, needs and capabilities of local communities, and work with them to develop more effective and appropriate responses. This approach will increase economic diversity, build resilience and deliver investments that take communities where they want to go.” 

What might this look like on the ground in regional communities, in the case of renewables? We need a resourced approach to helping local organisations and businesses work with state governments and project proponents to understand the upcoming opportunities and what is needed to take these up. Where there are gaps, people need to be supported to co-design localised solutions. Where there are challenges, they need to be supported to work collaboratively to solve them. There also needs to be hyper localised support to assist people to understand the opportunities for training and work, and encouraged to see a future for themselves in the renewables boom.

It also means investing in (rather than cutting the budgets of) the training organisations that are going to be delivering key courses, of which TAFE is a key player.

There are many things we could be doing on the ground to get our workforces and businesses ‘renewable-ready’. What the Government could do right now is to acknowledge the work organisations are currently doing on the ground, and provide some confidence that this work will continue to be valued into the future. 

Regional and rural Australia don’t want things done to them; it’s time to move towards policy design and project roll-outs that happen with regional communities. 

Really, there’s no time to waste.

Wombat munching grass in Tasmania grasslands

Tasmania Mapping Important Places in the North West REZ

The Tasmanian Government has just launched an interactive mapping tool to seek input from the community on where their “Important Places” are in the North West of the State. In December 2022 the Tasmanian Government announced that the North West region of the state would be the first region to be studied in detail and considered for being a Renewable Energy Zone (REZ). This collaborative mapping tool feeds into the state’s planning process for the REZ.

In a media statement made yesterday, Minister Barnett said “Community input is critical to understand the places where REZ may be best located and what communities expect in the way of benefits if they are to host a REZ”. He added that the mapping tool “allows community to contribute their local knowledge by identifying places that are important, whilst also identifying places where they think renewables may be best placed in the region”.

As state governments throughout the National Electricity Market progress planning and policy design to establish Renewable Energy Zones it is commendable to see the Tasmanian Government creating opportunities and using innovative engagement techniques for community participation early in the design phase. 

“We believe this is an Australian first, to see a participatory community mapping process where individuals can identify their own important places and have it feed into the REZ planning” said Ms Kim Mallee, from Community Power Agency.

Community Power Agency is passionate about enabling communities to be at the heart of the energy transition and to reap the benefits that this transformational change can bring. For this to occur and for the community’s voices to be heard, excellent engagement opportunities must be conducted early in the development process. Whether it is an individual project or a State REZ policy, the path to better social licence and understanding starts with good listening. 

We encourage everyone from North West Tasmania to get involved, spread the word and add your important places to the map”, Ms Mallee said. 

The “Mapping Important Places” engagement opportunity will be open for the month of July 2023 and is available here