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"The path to net zero runs through First Nations land" – First Nations Clean Energy Symposium 2024

– Tony Goodfellow, Advocacy Manager, RE-Alliance.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the First Nations Clean Energy Symposium in Tarntanya (Adelaide). It brought together Traditional Owners, communities engaging in the clean energy industry, government policy makers, industry representatives and First Nations leaders to hear and learn from each other.

Karrina Nolan, Executive Director, Original Power, kicked off the symposium with some clear scene setting:

  1. We are doing this because of climate change
  2. We have to do things differently and not repeat past mistakes made by extractive industries
  3. Australia’s economic shift to clean energy cannot go ahead without genuine engagement and there must be equity and capacity building.

She spoke of the 15 fully or partially owned First Nations projects in development around Australia. Joe Morrison, Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, said, “This is the start of a movement not just for climate change but Indigenous led renewable development.”

Free Prior and Informed Consent
A key theme of the symposium was Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). “It starts with consent,” said speaker Professor Robynne Quiggin, one of the First Nations Clean Energy Network’s 12 steering group members, and a member of the Net Zero Economy Agency and Advisory Board. “We will define what consent is – not the parties that come to us. No project just starts and finishes – FPIC needs to be applied at every stage of the process.”

Seeing strong examples of Traditional Owner leadership and industry best practice on display was particularly powerful, including:

The East Kimberley Clean Energy project
A highlight of the symposium was the The East Kimberley Clean Energy project, which has the involvement and partnership of multiple Traditional Owners: Balanggarra Ventures Corporation, MG Corporation, Kimberley Land Council and Pollination Group. It will be the first 100% green energy, hydrogen and ammonia export project in Australia to date. Speakers Lawford Benning, Aunty Carol, Ned David and Cissy Gore-Birch described how they led the process and made sure there was FPIC. “We’re determining where and how our product is being showcased, and having conversations about our country – and to me that’s power within itself,” said Benning.

ElectraNet and Barngarla
Representing Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation at the symposium was Jason Bilney and Sonja Dare. Together with transmission company ElectraNet they won the SA Premier's Award, which recognised collaboration on Eyre Peninsula Link, the new 270km high voltage transmission line from Cultana to Port Lincoln. Bilney and Dare showed that setting their own protocols for engagement, consultation and approvals helped to guide culturally and environmentally sensitive design of the transmission line through their country, while ensuring benefits such job pathways for the community.

Piitapan Solar Project and the Just Transition Guide
In the panel discussion ‘First Nations together are kicking goals around the world’, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Founder and Executive Director of Sacred Earth Solar, talked about empowering frontline Indigenous communities in Canada with renewable energy. They developed Piitapan Solar Project, a 20.8kW solar installation in Little Buffalo, Alberta that powers the community health centre, and the Just Transition Guide to show pathways to implement an equitable transition.

In the policy space there was a welcome announcement from Simon Duggan, Deputy Secretary of the departmental team advising Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen, that the $70 billion investment in renewable energy generation will embed criteria with quality and productivity of engagement with First Nations and outcomes.

However this was overshadowed by the lack of ambition and commitments in the Budget for First Nations communities. Karrina Nolan said, “There is nothing in the Federal Budget for First Nations in the clean energy transition.”

RE-Alliance was pleased to attend the first First Nations Clean Energy Symposium in 2022, and we will continue to work with First Nations leadership to create a just transition.

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