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Community Benefits Handbook

How Regional Australia can Prosper from the Clean Energy Boom

This handbook is to equip local community leaders with information and ideas to think big about how to leverage the renewables boom into local opportunities that address local needs and desires. 

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The need to significantly reduce emissions this decade presents a great challenge for us in making the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner and cheaper renewable energy.  Regional communities see the effects of this change, both positive and negative, whether from the widespread benefits of wind & solar farms or the closure of old power industries.

With so much noise and political point-scoring around emissions targets it can be easy to miss the strides that have been taken by state governments, renewables investors and local communities preparing the way for our future grid. Investment in clean power can give regional Australian families certainty that there will be prosperity, economic growth and job opportunities in their local communities for decades to come. 

Renewable Energy Zones, (REZs) will be the power stations of the future. Distributed over a region, solar, wind, pumped hydro and battery projects will collectively provide a steady supply of clean power that can be delivered to the National Electricity Market via high voltage transmission lines. Using existing lines as much as possible and then building new lines to projects concentrated in REZs is the most efficient and cost effective way to bring this clean power online.

Identified candidate Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) © AEMO 2020.

 

Each state’s energy department looks after REZs. Exactly what a REZ entails will be different between states. Even within a state, each REZ will look very different to the next depending on local geography, existing industry and demographics. 

Local communities themselves will, if they choose, play a massive role in determining what each REZ will look like and what local benefits they will deliver. The next couple of years will be critical for REZ communities in articulating what they would each like to see come out of the influx of renewable energy investment in their region.

Regional communities have at times expressed valid concerns about renewable projects. In our own work, typical complaints that we have heard include:

  • Visual amenity impacts
  • Noise concerns
  • Property price concerns
  • Lack of genuine consultation and access to decision-making
  • Changes of project ownership
  • Disruption of community cohesion
  • Land-use conflicts (real or perceived) with agriculture

These complaints align with those reported annually by the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner.

Renewable companies can vary in terms of the quality of their local engagement, communication,  and community benefit programs. All of the above concerns can be addressed at the company level, however there is a role for governments to prioritise community concerns as they regulate industry practice and issue licences for grid connection.  Companies should be striving to outdo each other in terms of community engagement practice, especially as the market becomes crowded and as they jockey for a position in a REZ.

The purpose of this handbook is to equip local community leaders with information and ideas to get started thinking big about how to leverage the renewables boom into local opportunities that address local needs and desires. It covers what kinds of benefits regional communities are already seeing in different parts of the country from large-scale renewables and begins to picture what these might look like on a bigger scale with industry investment concentrated across a region. 

Types of benefits locals are already seeing include:

  • direct payments to farmers for hosting wind and solar, often drought-proofing agricultural businesses
  • Neighbour payments
  • direct and indirect jobs created in construction, electrical work, manufacturing and maintenance
  • Procurement of local goods and services
  • neighbour benefit schemes (road upgrades, tree planting)
  • Funding for local community groups, schools and not-for-profits via community enhancement funds
  • community investment and ownership opportunities in renewable projects
  • Renewable energy tourism
  • Agricultural benefits e.g. improved carrying capacity of grazing land with solar panels providing shade for grass and sheep

However, we shouldn’t stop there. The cumulative benefits of multiple projects across a region created by the REZ system means we can dream big about projects that will have a legacy for decades into the future. 

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