Earning social licence for renewable projects is essential for a successful and speedy energy transition. Many regional communities, due to the closure of coal or the influx of wind and solar, are watching the transition from their backyards. Renewable Energy Zones have a massive potential to systemically and rapidly transform our energy networks and spur regional economic renewal at once. However, if local communities are not beneficiaries and decision-makers in the process, there is a risk that localised opposition could slow the pace of change and threaten the Renewable Energy Zone model.
The NSW Government correctly identifies in its Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap the need to build social licence for Renewable Energy Zones to succeed. In establishing merit criteria for connection in the REZs, the NSW Government have given themselves a powerful tool which can be leveraged to prioritise projects with gold-star commitments to community engagement and community benefit delivery.
This report outlines key mechanisms for building social licence in Renewable Energy Zones via the merit criteria. Included are outlines of each mechanism, case studies, and specific recommendations to inform the development of the merit criteria. This report and its recommendations sit around 8 themes:
- Involving local residents in decision making, project design, and benefit design
- Features of best-practice community enhancement funds
- Establishing regional coordination to strategically leverage individual project community funds
- Improving relations with project neighbours by establishing neighbour benefit schemes and reducing the use of confidentiality clauses in landholder agreements
- Inviting REZ residents to receive a share in project profits via co-investment options
- Establish mechanisms to enable mutually beneficial integration of agriculture and renewable industries
- Incentives for local procurement, content & jobs
Pursue further opportunities for benefit sharing including:
- Meeting needs of Traditional Custodians
- Securing decent local jobs
- Wind and solar tourism & education
Through the Merit Criteria, the NSW government can leverage genuine regional economic and community rejuvenation in REZ communities. When employed in tandem, benefit-sharing mechanisms will create tangible and compounding positive impacts. These benefits will stand up on their own as worthwhile and meaningful government planning and will ensure the local support is there for REZs to become shining examples of energy transformation in NSW and across the country.