Humanising the renewable energy transition

The Australian Clean Energy Summit 2023 (ACES23) brought together leaders across the renewable energy sector to discuss the state and outlook for the Australian clean energy industry, together with challenges and opportunities in realising Australia’s potential as a renewable energy superpower.

Our Executive Director, Sabiene Heindl presented at ACES23 on opportunities for social licence collaboration on 18 and 19 July in Sydney, and shares below the leadership of the Energy Charter on this very human element of the energy transition.

The state of play

Clearly the transition to clean energy is well underway. The sector is rapidly growing in terms of both household and large-scale renewable generation deployment and the necessary build of transmission and distribution network assets to support the move way from fossil fuel generation. While ambition and optimism to meet climate targets are high, social licence in communities remains a key challenge for both generation and transmission.

Humanising the renewable energy transition - Event 1

Social licence

Minister Bowen’s keynote address highlighted the importance of social licence. Speakers, including State Energy Ministers lamented the challenges in communities and the need for shared value. Community members Lee Kingma, Grazier from Tumut and Rosemary Hadaway, Chair of the Mudgee District Environment Group shared their insights from the ground:

  • Communities will wear the “product” for the long term
  • The benefit to the wider community is different to the local community
  • Local knowledge is key to decision
  • Regional and rural people have a strong sense of place and attachment to their land
  • Renewables are being imposed and people feel ignored
  • There are already insufficient local resources in terms of workers, accommodation, water supply and waste capacity
  • Community benefits should be just that, a benefit, not the provision of government services
  • Disturbance and vegetation loss should be minimised
  • The community is totally exhausted and need to be supported to engage meaningfully

They want leadership, open acknowledgement of all the costs, better communication and ethical behaviour. The bigger question was how?

Humanising the renewable energy transition - Event 2

Better Practice Social Licence Guidelines

The Energy Charter recently released a comprehensive Better Practice Social Licence Guideline (see below for the launch details). The Guideline was co-designed by the National Farmers Federation, Queensland Farmers Federation, NSW Farmers Federation, Victorian Farmers Federation, AgForce Queensland, Cotton Australia and Energy Charter signatories APA Group, Powerlink Queensland, TransGrid with support from Essential Energy and Jemena.  The Social Licence Guideline is underpinned by the Better Practice Guide to Landholder and Community Engagement which was launched at a National Farmers Federation event in September 2021.

Every stage of the Social Licence Guideline was collaboration – from designing the landholder survey, to analysing the results and developing the Social Licence Guideline.

  • Our dedicated Community Outcomes Group (COG) included representation from the Ag Energy Taskforce (representing over 30 ag bodies), Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group, National Farmers’ Federation, National Irrigators Council, RE-Alliance, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Queensland Farmers’ Federation and Victorian Farmers Federation. 
  • Our Industry Collaborators included Energy Charter signatories Transgrid (NSW, ACT), Powerlink Queensland (QLD), TasNetworks (TAS), AusNet Services (VIC) + ElectraNet (SA).
  • Our research partner into the voice of landholders was KPMG Australia.

Importantly, Energy Charter signatories have committed to reporting against how they are meeting the Priority Actions of the Guidelines through their annual Disclosure Reports in the Energy Charter Accountability Process.

Training of Land Agents

This month we were involved in training land agents together with Andrew Dyer, the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner on bringing the Social Licence Guideline to life at a practical level.

AG Energy Social Licence Roundtable

Last year at the request of the ag sector, we established the Ag Energy Social Licence Roundtable. It most recently met in Dubbo in June following the Ag Renewables Conference to discuss challenges and opportunities for collaboration through the renewable energy transition.

Evaluating Transmission Undergrounding

Finally, we have recently kicked off a #BetterTogether initiative on evaluating transmission undergrounding which builds on our Social Licence Guideline. It aims to improve the experience of host landholders and communities by collaborating with community representatives and stakeholders to:

  • Validate community concerns, considerations and expectations for how the viability of underground compared to overhead transmission designs should be evaluated by transmission businesses
  • Co-develop a shared knowledge and evidence-base, including Better Practice approaches to assessing and evaluating social costs and mitigating impacts
  • Identify and address public information and evidence gaps, sources of (dis)information and practice (in)consistencies.

Working hand in hand with community, transmission businesses and other relevant stakeholders (through a Community Outcomes Group), we will collect and consider a wide variety of perspectives and evidence to bring greater transparency to how the viability of underground compared to overhead transmission designs are evaluated. This includes considering the insights gathered through the NSW Inquiry into the Feasibility of Undergrounding Transmission Infrastructure.

We’re proud to be supporting collaborative initiatives that highlight the human face of transition.  There’s no doubt that social licence challenges will only be solved #bettertogether.