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NAIDOC 2021: How might we 'heal country' with renewable energy?

The theme for NAIDOC week 2021 is ‘Heal Country.’ For many of us interested in the clean energy transformation, we see the replacement of coal mines and gas wells with wind turbines and solar farms as vital to moving towards more green, regenerative futures. We have witnessed fossil fuel corporations get it wrong time, and time, and time again. And each time we shout “this is another reason why we need renewable energy!”

However, the transition to renewable energy will not automatically align with the healing of Country that is being advocated for by First Nations communities this NAIDOC week. We must all commit deeply to advocating for and contributing to a renewable energy future that has healing of Country at its heart.

First Nations-led organisations including Original Power and Aboriginal Land Councils are working broadly on ways in which Land Rights can be central to the transformation to renewable energy, and how Traditional Custodians can share in the benefits of renewable energy projects. The First Nations Workers Alliance, an affiliate of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is reportedly developing resources to assist Traditional Custodians and industry to “establish what best practice engagement and involvement of Traditional Custodians in major projects—including renewable energy projects—looks like.

As the renewable energy transformation continues to build steam, we should be looking to create a renewable energy industry that has Healing Country at its heart. Part of this could be considering what benefits specifically for Traditional Custodians and Land Councils can be built into the roll-out of Renewable Energy Zones that is occurring in NSW, VIC, QLD and TAS.

In our work, we see that relationships between Traditional Custodians, renewable energy advocates, government and industry are essential to the success and equity of our clean energy transformation. RE-Alliance is committed to improving our relationships with Traditional Custodians on whose lands we work, and to advocating for specific benefits and genuine collaboration and empowerment of Traditional Custodians in the establishment of Renewable Energy Zones. 

Centre for Appropriate Technology

Image Credit: Centre for Appropriate Technology

There are some pre-existing projects from which to take inspiration. The Centre for Appropriate Technology, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-controlled business, ran a program called ‘Bushlight’ from 2002 to 2013. The program saw over 130 stand-alone renewable energy systems installed in remote communities across the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, providing reliable and affordable power to Aboriginal communities. The Valley Centre, an organisation focused on supporting sustainable, resilient futures has developed the Indigenous Solar Rolling Fund to enable Indigenous communities to install solar and potentially batteries in their communities. Beon Energy undertook a targeted training and employment program in the construction of a solar farm, resulting in the training and employment of 38 Aboriginal workers. 

A positive example of proactive engagement with local Traditional Custodians is the Hornsdale Wind Farm’s relationship with the Ngadjuri and Nukunu people. Trust was built through engagement conducting the Cultural Heritage Management Plans resulting in the first wind farm towers featuring Indigenous art as outlined in the Clean Energy Council’s Guide to Benefit Sharing Options for Renewable Energy Projects. The Chair of the Ngadjuri Nations Aboriginal Corporation Quentin Argus said "Recognition towards our people and to the both groups — the Ngadjuri and Nukunu — it's been a long process but a good one" and "anything to do with renewable energy which leaves a lesser footprint on the land is good for us all, so we welcome the development”.

Some of the priorities that have already identified in relation to the renewable energy industry include:

  • Establishment of protocols for free, prior & informed consent, and meaningful engagement between Traditional Custodians and RE project proponents
  • Inclusion of First Nations representatives in project design and planning
  • Partnerships between Local Aboriginal Land Councils and renewable energy proponents for the leasing of land holdings for wind, solar or transmission infrastructure
  • Ensuring benefits of projects flow to First Nations, and consulting with Traditional Custodians on what they believe this should look like
  • Identifying and maximising employment opportunities for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander workers in both the construction and operations phase of renewable energy including the development of targeted apprenticeship/ traineeship programs
  • Commitment to guarantee ongoing access to sites of significance once the project is underway.
  • Commitment to employing local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to restore the land at the end life of the project
  • Solar & Wind project co-ownership & co-investment opportunities for Land Councils and First Nations communities
  • Partnerships with developers
  • In-kind donations of solar panels for Community housing
  • Cultural tours to project developers, executives, construction workers etc. 
  • Land rehabilitation, biodiversity corridors, offset programs on Land Council land holdings

RE-Alliance is interested in learning more about the types of benefits and opportunities that Land Councils and the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in NSW, VIC, TAS. A significant aspect of our work is ensuring that regional communities benefit from the establishment of renewable energy zones. Our role is to help raise community voices and to advocate to government and industry for outcomes desired by those living in Renewable Energy Zones. We seek to work with local Aboriginal Land Councils and Traditional Custodians with the aim of ensuring benefits of REZs flow to First Nations people. Towards this goal we seek to:

  • Listen to and learn from Land Councils and Traditional Custodians on concerns they have and opportunities they would like to see arise out of the REZ;
  • Build an ongoing relationship to work together to achieve the identified benefits and opportunities, and to address concerns as they arise;
  • Draw on our industry relationships to facilitate ongoing dialogue between Land Councils and the renewable energy industry to work towards this goal.

Get in touch with us if you would like to help further these goals and ideas

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