RE-Alliance recently provided a submission to the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner’s Community Engagement Review.
The Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, has been observing the way energy companies engage with communities for around eight years. A few months ago, the Energy Minister Chris Bowen tasked the Commissioner with a review into community engagement - essentially asking for a report on how things are going and what might need to be done to improve things. The AEIC then set about building up a terms of reference and recently called for public input to inform the report that will be sent to the Minister later this year.
While the proof of the impact of this review will be in the enacting, we see this review as a chance to push for an uplift of engagement standards across the industry.
In our submission, we welcomed the opportunity to engage with the AEIC to help shine a light on community attitudes to the energy transition, to recommend ways to maximise community engagement within existing policy contexts and to propose new policy proposals.
We know that as the transition to renewables scales up, regional and rural communities are being asked to host large-scale clean energy projects in their regions. Many communities are facing real impacts as a result of the transition right now, while the benefits on offer are off in the future. People are understandably scared and confused, and this makes earning social licence for projects a challenge.
While we acknowledge and welcome the early, good steps taken by the Government on renewable energy and transmission needed to rapidly decarbonise our energy system. The Government now needs to take the lead in creating frameworks and policies that support communities in navigating this large-scale change. Fundamentally, this must instil confidence in communities and build an environment of trust and transparency.
We stressed that, in our view, communities hosting energy infrastructure should have the power and support to meaningfully engage and participate in project and region-level energy planning, implementation and benefit sharing. This will help to ensure significant improvements in social, environmental, cultural and local economic outcomes that build knowledge, trust and social licence required to deliver the energy we need, aligned to a safe climate goal of 1.5C.
To enable this to happen requires several related actions and activities by governments, industry and stakeholders. We see the the key actions required are to:
Create an environment of trust by telling a compelling transition story
Embed and enable First Nations justice in the energy transition
Provide funding and coordination for place-based regional planning
Support development of national-level strategic land use mapping
Fund community-based support to build knowledge and participation
Develop national merit criteria to ensure high quality community engagement is undertaken by all renewable energy and transmission projects
Enable trusted information to support communities
For further detail on these recommendations, additional steps and key implementation actions, read our full submission here.