RE-Alliance responded to the draft rule from the Australian Energy Markets Commission (AEMC) on enhancing community engagement in transmission projects.
The AEMC sets the rules for the energy market and provides policy advice to governments regarding energy and gas markets. The AEMC makes and modifies rules, but always undertakes public consultation on changes. The rules make clear what energy companies are required to do, but sometimes the rules aren’t very specific. Earlier this year the Energy Minister Chris Bowen requested stronger and clearer direction on who transmission companies should engage with in communities and what community engagement requires the companies to do. We submitted to this consultation to ensure the change is as effective as possible.
High quality community engagement is key to identifying and mitigating issues early to help reduce future delays and costs. It is also critical to a sense of fairness for host communities. And as regional and rural Australia will host the majority of this infrastructure, they should be fairly and respectfully engaged from early phases through to building and delivery.
By explicitly stating in the rules that community engagement is required, transmission companies will be able to undertake engagement activities and to recover these costs.
We recognise that this AEMC consultation on the draft rule builds on the clarification earlier in 2023 that transmission projects can recover costs for community engagement.
Our submission welcomed the AEMC's development of this rule to give clearer definition on what constitutes community engagement, what is expected by the community and who transmission companies must engage with as part of this activity. We recommended a number of minor changes, but strongly consider that this rule should be fast-tracked and implemented this year. The final rule should also be supported by clear guidance, with monitoring and oversight from the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), who are responsible for compliance and enforcement.
Our recommendations to the AEMC were to:
ensure that the rule will apply to all large scale transmission projects
expand the community engagement stakeholder list by adding detail to environment groups and including local business and industry specifically in the list of stakeholder
ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are widely included
clarify that the rule will apply to the transmission planner, agency and project developer for onshore and offshore transmission
clarify that the rule will embed the principles of free, prior and informed consent for First Nations communities
clarify that the rule will apply to projects already underway
task the AER with developing implementation guidance to support best practice community engagement in transmission, and undertaking a monitoring, tracking and reporting function.
Read our full submission here.