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Better Practice Renewables and Biodiversity: Opportunities for Collaboration Guide

The intersecting crises of accelerating climate change and ecosystem decline present a challenge for the switch to renewable energy. We need to build new infrastructure to replace fossil fuels and at the same time, improve and protect our natural environment by reducing the impacts of new development wherever possible.

This Better Practice Renewables and Biodiversity: Opportunities for Collaboration Guide (Better Practice Guide) showcases several environmental interventions at every stage of renewable energy project development, from energy system design to end-of-life. It outlines some of what is possible through case studies and identifies opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.

You can read the guide here and watch our webinar launch of the guide here.

This process emerged from a series of environment and energy cross-sector workshops in Queensland hosted by RE-Alliance, the Energy Charter and Powerlink Queensland. While there are unique advantages in the Queensland context compared to other states that lend themselves to cross-sector collaboration, namely the presence of Government-Owned Energy Corporations, this Better Practice Guide will have broad applicability.

Following the workshops, this Better Practice Guide was developed by RE-Alliance and the Energy Charter with over 30 collaborators from the environmental and energy sectors.

Designing and developing successful renewable energy projects is no small task. There are many practical constraints to consider, including the availability of wind and sun, and crucially, the potential to connect into the grid where there is capacity. At the end of the day, we all pay for energy infrastructure through our energy bills, and consumers must be protected by keeping infrastructure costs low. All development comes with some environmental impact. Transitioning to renewable energy is a great task and it’s important that as the industry matures, the energy and environmental sectors are working together to clarify the most notable environmental issues of concern, minimise impacts and explore opportunities for collaboration to maximise benefits for biodiversity.

There are opportunities for renewable energy companies to reduce impact and create environmental benefits at all stages of a project’s life. This Better Practice Guide maps these interventions and highlights key stages that are important to get right.

For project developers, the project siting stage is the most critical in terms of the potential to avoid and reduce environmental impacts. Poor site selection decisions cannot be fixed later through project design, impact minimisation measures or offsets. This stage is also the most visible to local communities with whom it is important to build trust for renewable energy development to proceed at the necessary pace and scale. If site selection decisions lead to significant environmental impact, project proponents may be unable to gain the trust of environmental organisations or the local communities they work in.

Once a site has been selected, the potential for innovation starts. When proponents work with local environmental organisations and Traditional Owners to understand local environmental priorities, there is a greater opportunity to build trust and pave the way for unique environmental benefits. Interventions during the project planning process can include micro-siting to protect sensitive areas within the site and co-location with agricultural or environmental land use practices. Partnerships with landholders and local organisations are key.

The practice of designing a Vegetation Management plan for the project site that is integrated with local environmental priorities is one of the best opportunities to improve local environments during the operational stage of the project. Voluntary contributions, employee volunteerism and locally-led community benefit programs to local environmental projects is another great way proponents can give back to local environments and communities.

Maximising project lifespans to reduce environmental impacts associated with demands created by project closure also presents a great opportunity to reduce impact at the end-of-life stage.

Whole-of-lifecycle principles which include the reuse, recovery and recycling of project materials at the highest possible value can be applied throughout a project’s planning and lifecycle stages to minimise impacts from landfill and mining.

This Better Practice Guide identifies four areas ripe for continued cross-sector collaboration: appropriate sharing of environmental data between renewable energy proponents and environmental groups; the co-design of integrated vegetation management plans for transmission corridors; the establishment of a rights-of-way as habitat network across Queensland; and regional economic development in the recycling sector.

We hope this Better Practice Guide sparks new discussions between industry, government and communities on how we can practically support conservation through the business of building the renewable energy we need.

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