RE-Alliance was born ten years ago as the Victorian Wind Alliance. Since then we have worked with numerous people who are passionate about renewable energy: landholders, regional community groups and renewable energy companies who are driving Australia’s energy transition. We’ve also worked with people who have questioned the transition – we’ve had important discussions and debates, and learned a few things along the way.
Our reason for existence, which has guided us for the last ten years, is the belief that the energy transition must benefit the regional communities who are hosting the new infrastructure.
In the last ten years we have witnessed a sea change in renewable energy in Australia. Public perception and government policies have moved to accelerate the transition even as the threat of climate change is fast becoming a reality. As support and momentum for renewable energy builds in Australia, we continue our work with regional communities, renewable energy companies and governments to ensure the energy transition unlocks opportunities for and protects the future of individuals and communities in regional Australia.
As we turn 10, here are 10 key takeaways from our journey so far: things we’ve done, achievements we celebrate and lessons we’ve learned.
1. Prosperity comes from celebrating the unique needs of every community
We’ve learned that every community’s journey to a landscape with renewables is unique. We’ve seen this in outcomes as varied as community ownership of renewable energy projects, employment and skills programs, neighbourhood improvement programs and community benefit funds. For regional communities to benefit from renewable energy, it is important to celebrate the uniqueness of each community and fully advocate for their interests.
Examples of this uniqueness include communities of the Murra Warra Wind Farm, Hepburn Wind Farm, White Rock and Sapphire Wind Farms, Delburn and Hexham Wind Farms and Portland District Health.
2. Calling out one wrong leads to many rights
When we see insufficient community engagement we call it out. This is important to us because such deficiencies often lead to loss of good faith and community benefits in the long term. Our independence makes it possible for us to guide, analyse and comment on community engagement practices in the industry.
3. We are guided by the community
Partnering with communities to achieve benefits from transition comes in many forms – from supporting farmers who want to host wind farms, driving community education programs, hosting industry roundtables and helping set up community benefit funds. Rather than strictly defining what we do, we have created some of our most impactful work and delivered good outcomes for our communities when we have let community needs define our scope.
Examples include elevating the voices of our supporters in communities such as Goulburn, the NSW southern tablelands, and Ballarat. We have also provided a platform for our supporters in the face of inquiries and misinformation, and learned better how to do this from overseas examples.
4. We are invested in the community
Our team is not distant and disconnected from the regional communities we partner with and work in. We are a team of people who live in communities we care deeply about – which brings strength to our work. We are champions of renewable energy but understand the unique concerns and challenges to the transition in our communities. We are passionate about working with our partners to ensure our community’s voices and needs are represented in the transition.
5. Our role lies in creating the environment for community self-determination
We understand that the transition brings with it big changes to regional communities. Networked and informed communities embrace this change with enthusiasm and creativity; they shape the change on their terms, be it in the form of investments, jobs or payments. By creating spaces for community networks to grow, and to share information and ideas, we create the environment for community self-determination.
6. At our best, we’ve engaged with the entire energy ecosystem
As an organisation that works with individuals, communities, renewable energy companies and the government, we are in a unique position to engage with the entire energy ecosystem, championing the cause of regional community benefits. This work takes the form of supporting farmers with independent information, partnering with communities to articulate their needs, making submissions to inform government policies and consulting with industry. This ecosystem approach ensures we can most effectively advocate for the needs of regional communities to be represented in policy.
7. Our allies make us stronger
There are many individuals and organisations who are working on existential issues, driven by the vision to help create a better world. We are proud of the work we and our allies are engaged in. We also believe that together, we are stronger. We have worked with leading environmental NGOs to release a joint statement on the need for transmission lines in reducing pollution, protecting climate and preserving nature. We will continue to find avenues for collaborating with our allies.
8. People have delightful, surprising relationships with renewable energy infrastructure
For Ballarat-based artist Mairin Briody, wind farms are “scenes of unbridled optimism” and an inspiration for her art.
9. The upscaling of the renewable energy build-out requires an upscaling in thinking about community benefits
The scale of the new infrastructure being built through regional Australia is one of the biggest economic opportunities the regions have seen since the wool boom of the 1950s. This will drive employment and prosperity but if executed poorly, existing bottlenecks around housing and access to labour and skills could be exacerbated. Thorough planning is required, alongside a much broader conception of the benefits regional communities should expect – including a focus on essential things like health, education and community facilities.
10. New technologies require new environmental thinking
The urgency of the climate crisis means that any renewable energy technology will be better for the climate than a fossil fuel technology it replaces. But renewable technologies such as pumped hydro storage and offshore wind farms are yet to be adopted in Australia. This means the work around how these technologies interact with our environment is yet to be done. RE-Alliance will follow and contribute to this work to make sure what’s good for the climate is also what’s good for the environment.
Thank you to everyone who has been part of our journey so far.
Here’s to the next ten years!