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Energy ministers prioritise environment and regional communities in energy transition planning

Some momentous strides forward for our renewable energy future were made on Friday.

Federal, State and Territory Energy Ministers had their second meeting under the new Albanese government. They formed a new National Energy Transformation Partnership, which represents a “fundamental reset of relations across governments” and the first fully integrated national energy and emissions agreement.  

The Partnership made a number of commitments – which will have a significant impact on accelerating our transition to renewables in a just and thoughtful way.

Environmental objective in the National Electricity Objective

As the first action, energy ministers have agreed to put an environmental objective into the National Electricity Objective (NEO).

What is the National Electricity Objective? In the world of energy, it’s often called “the one rule to rule them all.” Within the National Electricity Law, the NEO sets out some guiding principles for the rules of our energy market, the National Electricity Market (NEM).

In the late 1990s, the Government made a decision to exclude environmental considerations from national electricity law. 

This exclusion has significantly impeded our shift to renewables. 

It has meant that when decisions are made about our energy market, they are made considering only narrow economic factors. As a result, regulators have been obliged to make some “clearly absurd” decisions, such as endorsing new diesel generators rather than a storage option at Broken Hill

So, when the environment is in the NEO, what will it mean?

It will require NEM rule-makers to consider environmental and emissions-related factors in their decision making. It means that bodies like the Australian Energy Market Operator will be empowered to support the energy transition in line with climate science. 

As RenewEconomy journalist Giles Parkinson writes: “Its inclusion is likely to lead to a rethink of key rules and regulations, and their interpretation, and pave the way for tens of billions of dollars in new infrastructure, generation and storage that will fast-track the shift from coal and gas to a renewables-based grid.”

It will make it easier to bring more renewable energy into the grid, which will mean both lower emissions and cheaper power bills.

Regional planning for renewables buildout

Another commitment of the Partnership was to “develop detailed integrated energy infrastructure and regional planning scenarios that span gas and electricity networks, electrification pathways and new industry possibilities to identify jobs and investment pathways for renewed manufacturing and new industries, like hydrogen.” 

We don’t know much about what exactly this will mean at this stage – but it’s critical that regional communities and planning are front of mind for the government.

Co-designed First Nations Clean Energy Strategy 

Energy ministers committed to developing a First Nations Clean Energy Strategy, which will see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share in the benefits of our clean energy transformation. 

Karrina Nolan, a key architect of the First Nations Clean Energy Network (FNCEN) said, “The rapid transition to renewables needs to happen with pace but also a sharp focus on ensuring First Nations heritage is protected and communities share in its economic and social benefits.”

FNCEN said it was confident that this show of commitment from energy ministers will mean there’s now an opportunity to put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people front and centre.

Focus on vital transmission projects

The National Energy Transformation Partnership also identified and declared transmission “of national significance”. Their objective specifically highlights the actionable projects in the Integrated System Plan – Marinus, VNI West (via Kerang) and Humelink – and says they seek “to accelerate the timely delivery of these critical projects and ensure better community consultation.” 

We know that there can be no transition without transmission, so we’re very pleased to see that progressing transmission projects with good community consultation is a focus.

We wholeheartedly welcome these commitments by energy ministers, which signal a big step forward for our renewable energy future. We hope this is the start of our government treating the energy transformation as something that can benefit regional communities, First Nations peoples, our environment – and us all.

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