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Submission on qREZ Local Benefits

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RE-Alliance congratulates the Queensland Government on its Local Benefits in Queensland Renewable Energy Zones Community Consultation Paper.

We commend the government for focussing its efforts on the four local benefit principles: 

  1. Genuine and ongoing engagement
  2. Shared benefits with communities
  3. Buy local, build local and
  4. Local jobs and secure work.

Social licence at a local and regional level for renewable projects is a critical pillar of the transformation to clean energy. All new electricity infrastructure brings impacts for local communities, but it can also bring incredible opportunities for regional renewal. Engaging effectively and ensuring significant financial, social and environmental benefits accrue to impacted communities are essential to securing social licence.  

RE-Alliance welcomes the Queensland government’s leadership in investing $145 million to establish three Queensland Renewable Energy Zones (QREZ) in Northern, Central and Southern Queensland. This is on top of the $2 billion the Government has committed to establish the Queensland Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Jobs Fund. This Fund will allow government-owned energy corporations to increase ownership of commercial renewable energy and hydrogen projects, as well as supporting infrastructure, including in partnership with the private sector.

RE-Alliance has undertaken considerable research into better-practice community engagement and benefit sharing for Australia’s renewable energy transformation. For detailed case study examples and recommendations, we include the following two resources as part of this submission.

  • Building Trust for Transmission: Earning the social licence needed to plug in Australia’s Renewable Energy Zones
    This paper summarises the social licence barriers faced by the energy industry in the development of transmission lines and how TNSPs, regulators and governments can overcome them. Link
  • Earning Social Licence in NSW Renewable Energy Zones: Submission to NSW Energy Corporation in the development of the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Safeguard Merit Criteria

This paper outlines in detail the major types of benefit-sharing models, includes case studies from Australia, and how (in the NSW context) state governments can use the REZ planning process to leverage the best social outcomes for regional communities. Link

Comments about the four principles

  • Genuine and ongoing engagement

In our reports and submissions RE-Alliance promotes the need for genuine and ongoing engagement with local communities. Engagement should start early and should include:

  • landholders and asset owners along potential transmission line routes; 
  • local community members and groups; 
  • local Councils and State Planning Departments; and 
  • First Nations, environment and other special interest groups.

Standard community engagement protocols, designed by IAP2, typically sit along the following trajectory:
INFORMING > CONSULTING > INVOLVING > COLLABORATING > EMPOWERING We recommend that government and industry stakeholders implement community engagement practices that are collaborative and empowering, rather than simply informing communities.

We welcome the Queensland Government’s commitment to ensure that engagement reaches local Traditional Owners and First Nations peoples. We note that in our organisation's engagement with First Nations communities and organisations for NSW REZs, desired engagement and benefits extend beyond employment programs. Some of the priorities that have been identified in relation to the renewable energy industry include:

Establishment of engagement protocols that uphold free, prior and informed consent

  • Inclusion of First Nations representatives in all stages of project design, planning and implementation
  • Partnerships between Local Aboriginal Land Councils and renewable energy proponents for the leasing of land holdings for generation 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

With regards to transmission development, we welcome the recent changes to the National Electricity Rules facilitated by the Energy Security Board’s REZ planning rules. We note that in Queensland this will largely capture new transmission projects in the three proposed REZs. Some projects in southern States which had already completed stages of their regulatory investment test for transmission (RIT-T) prior to the rule change are experiencing significant community opposition due to perceived lack of early and thorough public and landholder consultation.

  • Shared benefits with communities

RE-Alliance welcomes the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the benefits of new renewable energy and transmission developments are shared with local communities. We very much agree with the Government that 

“benefit sharing is integral to a community's sense of fairness and ensures that the economic benefits of renewable energy development are distributed relative to the potential impact of the project on the local community”.

We also support the Government’s list of benefit sharing mechanisms including such innovative practices such as energy efficiency programs or innovative financing opportunities.

We particularly support the Government’s proposed co-ordinated benefit sharing proposal. Over the last seven years, our organisation has been working in the intersection between renewable energy projects and local communities, assisting wind farms to build bridges with local communities through benefit and profit-sharing arrangements. This typically takes the form of community enhancement funds that provide grants to local community groups and neighbour payments schemes. However, we have seen a great variety of innovative models. In particular,

  • RE-Alliance is currently facilitating a combined fund vehicle to bring together project-based wind farm community enhancement funds across the Moyne Shire
  • Community members are able to co-invest in large wind farms at Sapphire, Coonooer Bridge and Kiata Wind Farms.
  • Construction of a solar and battery-based mini grid for residents around the Dundonnell Wind Farm.
  • Benefits and support for project neighbours through a Neighbour Benefit Scheme. These can include benefits such as construction disruption payments, annual financial incentives, discounted electricity bills, project investment options, landscaping, household solar systems and/or batteries. Thunderbolt Energy Hub in NSW recently announced a best-practice neighbour payment scheme, that recognises the importance of ensuring project neighbours benefit from nearby projects.

We hope the combined fund model we have developed which uses on-the-ground experience to enhance social licence at a local level is of interest to the government. We would be happy to discuss our work further with the Department. Our goal is to make sure the transition to renewables delivers meaningful opportunities for regional renewal for host communities across Australia. This work will assist in creating the policy settings, the expectations and best-practice knowledge on how to deliver a just transition for regional communities. 

  • Buy local, build local

RE-Alliance supports the Government’s buy local, build local principle and we recommend that initiatives such as those outlined in the Community Consultation Paper as occurring in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia are also implemented in Queensland. These initiatives are in their early stages but have the potential to grow local employment and prosperity.

The Queensland Government’s Buy Queensland Procurement Policy 2021 combined with the fact that many of the Queensland energy businesses remain publicly owned provides the opportunity for the Government to source materials and labour locally, contributing to local economic development.

  • Local jobs and secure work

RE-Alliance supports the Government’s initiatives to provide safe, secure and decent employment, which gives priority to local workers, including apprenticeships and trainees.

We recommend that the Queensland government works with relevant unions, local community organisations, industry and other stakeholders to create a coordinated local training, jobs and procurement plan for each REZ. This plan could include, but is not limited to, the establishment of:

  1. Briefings and trainings to support local providers to apply for REZ opportunities
  2. Rolling local construction crews 
  3. Local jobs for transmission upgrades
  4. Workforce planning and education, including apprenticeship programs
  5. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hiring and training programs
  6. Establishment of local manufacturing and other value-add industries

RE-Alliance thoroughly supports the Queensland Government’s investment in specialised training including:

  • The $20 million Hydrogen Training Centre of Excellence at Beenleigh;
  • $10.6 million for a Hydrogen an Renewable Energy Training Facility at Bohle TAFE campus in Townsville;
  • $2 million to upgrade facilities at Gladstone State High School; and 
  • A $17 million grant which will allow Electro Group Training to deliver renewable energy skills and training.

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