– Kate Kotarska, Policy Manager, RE-Alliance.
Published in July 2021, our Building Trust for Transmission report made a series of recommendations to improve outcomes for local communities in the roll-out of transmission lines, including financial returns and planning and engagement issues. The report was built on extensive consultation with landholders, transmission network service providers and regulators.
Transmission infrastructure is what will connect us to the clean and reliable power that’s generated from renewable sources. A smooth roll-out of transmission lines means a smoother and swifter shift to renewable energy, which means significantly decreasing our emissions and helping us avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Without community acceptance, however, new transmission infrastructure may not be built at all. Proper consultation with host landholders and communities is crucial, as is ensuring they receive adequate benefits from the projects.
In the eighteen months since the release of our Building Trust for Transmission report, we are delighted to see many of our recommendations have been implemented by various State and Federal Governments, energy market bodies and transmission companies; however, some recommendations remain unaddressed.
In this two-part blog series, we explore each of these. The first blog outlines recommendations that have been implemented, and the second explores the unaddressed recommendations and the opportunities for future reform these hold.
DONE OR COMMITTED TO:
The RIT-T Review: Expanding the RIT-T to include the social and environmental costs and benefits to local communities
This recommendation was taken up by the Hon Chris Bowen during the election campaign when he foreshadowed a review of the RIT-T. During his address to last year’s Energy Networks Australia Conference, he stated that a Labor Government “would work with the states, market bodies, networks, and most importantly communities, to improve the RIT-T process.”
Transmission companies improve their consultation style
RE-Alliance has observed improvement in this area over the last 18 months. For example, Powerlink has published a Community Engagement Strategy which has a series of commitments including “Be an active community member: engage early and often.” Another example is Transgrid’s response to Landowner and Community Advocate, former NSW Commissioner for Fair Trading Rod Stowe’s report into the Humelink Engagement Process. Whilst Mr Stowe’s initial findings were very critical of Transgrid processes his follow up report found that Transgrid accepted all his previous recommendations and “ set out on a program to completely reshape its engagement strategies and processes. Two major components of that included a significant increase in the resources allocated to landowner and community engagement and the establishment of community consultative committees to provide an additional mechanism for two-way sharing of information between Transgrid and the various stakeholders in this major infrastructure project."
RE-Alliance has participated in a range of new collaborations, with transmission business increasingly showing a willingness to work together, and with others, over the last 18 months.
An example is the Energy Charter’s #BetterTogether Landholder + Community Social Licence initiative, focused on addressing social licence issues associated with the energy transition. Collaboration with agricultural sector representatives will result in a social licence guideline for transmission infrastructure hosts, focusing on mitigating negative impacts and identifying possible benefits.
Transmission businesses are represented at the Energy Charter’s Ag + Energy Social Licence Roundtable, and are participating in a Community of Practice to share approaches to Landholder Options and Access Agreements, including issues of engagement, reimbursement, and compensation.
State Government policy reform allows transmission companies to use community benefit sharing models to share financial benefits with affected landholders and communities
This policy area has been led by NSW, which recently announced the Strategic Benefits Payments Scheme (SBP) for private landowners. Under the SBP scheme, private landowners hosting new high voltage transmission projects critical to the energy transformation and future of the electricity grid will be paid a set rate of $200,000 per kilometre of transmission hosted, paid out in annual instalments over 20 years, linked to the Consumer Price Index.
Meaningful consultation with Traditional Owners
In NSW, the First Nations Guidelines recommend that network companies be required to prepare and implement an Aboriginal participation plan for priority transmission infrastructure projects and Renewable Energy Zone network infrastructure projects respectively. These Guidelines were created following a commitment from the Government in the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Act 2020 and after our report also called for improved consultation with traditional owners.
In late November 2022 the First Nations Clean Energy Network (FNCEN) launched 10 Best Practice Principles and a Negotiations Guide to help First Nations communities negotiate mid to large scale developments on country, or assist community-led and community-owned clean energy projects.
All jurisdictions are cooperating on the First Nations Clean Energy Strategy. The Commonwealth Government has committed $5.5 million through the 2022-23 Budget, to develop a co-design process, working closely with the National Indigenous Australians Agency, the First Nations Clean Energy Network and States and Territories. Extensive consultation is set to begin in early 2023, building on best practice work of jurisdictions, First Nations communities and organisations.
Transmission companies substantially expand existing community development and partnership programs
Transmission companies have a range of Community Partnership Funding. See for example Transgrid’s Community Partnership Program list of funded activities. These remain quite small funding opportunities, however. In a promising sign, we’re seeing project-specific programs that are delivering benefits to local communities in strategic ways. For instance, Transgrid has a range of Corporate Sponsorship activities such as Transgrid engineering scholarships which help to address the infrastructure skills shortage, and has allocated $2 million to support the education of 100 engineering students at the Charles Sturt University’s Bathurst campus.
Transmission companies are able to recover social licence related costs via the RIT-T
In June 2022 in their Draft Stage 2 report of the Transmission Planning and Investment Review, the Australian Energy Market Commission clarified that the National Electricity Rules allow cost recovery of social licence activities undertaken by transmission companies for major transmission projects. This was the first time the Commission had formally clarified this matter to industry and the community.
Other recommended reform
One significant recommendation made in both RE-Alliance’s submission to the Draft 2022 Integrated System Plan and the climate and environment movement’s recommendations to the Federal Government in Achieving Fast, Fair and Sustainable Transmission Development: Rewiring the Nation Report in October last year has been achieved.
Supporting the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) to establish a landholder advisory committee
AEMO has established the Advisory Council on Social Licence to better understand broader community sentiment, execution challenges and possible opportunities presented by the construction of new energy infrastructure.
Have a look at our next blog for our proposed reforms still to be achieved and our transmission priorities for the coming year.