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Doing Development Right - Can We?

I have spent some time considering how we can “do development right” in NSW.

This week the NSW government released new guidelines for ways to improve community outcomes from new renewable energy developments, for proponents of projects to follow.

The irony is, we have seen decades of poor development in NSW, that ignores landholder concerns, glazes over massive negative impacts from state significant fossil fuel projects.

Recently I (and others) have been highly concerned the same thing will happen with renewables.

This looked especially likely because some renewable energy project developers were hiring the same people and using the same practices that were used in fossil fuel projects.

The favourite methodology is the worst kept industry secret called:

FUCCEM method used on communities.

· Forge local relationships with key people
· Understand the issues
· Create community leaders
· Claim the middle ground
· Employ local activists
· Marginalise the rest

This method has been key in dividing communities and ultimately allowing fossil fuel developers to push ahead.

However, with the dawn of a new renewable era, we have an opportunity to do things differently and it appears the NSW government now wants to take up this opportunity in guiding new renewable energy projects.

Here’s how they intend to deliver on this:

AEMO Services (a subsidiary of AEMO; Australian Energy Market Operator) was appointed by the NSW Government’s Minister for Energy, in 2021 as the NSW Consumer Trustee. The NSW Consumer Trustee’s role is to look after the interests of NSW energy customers through long term, structured procurement and planning processes. It is the sole decision maker for the competitive processes where renewable energy project developers bid to enter into Long-Term Energy Services Agreements (LTESAs).

Bids by developers in REZs (Renewable Energy Zones), must include Community Engagement activities and outcomes, of which they are contractually bound, if/when awarded tenders to develop renewable projects in a REZ.

Whilst this is not directly relevant in the Northwest, as we are not in a REZ, it will set the standard in NSW and possibly Australia for what a socially responsible renewable project looks like.

Geni.Energy has been working on its own principles for the kinds of developments we want to see in the region. We hope these are useful for Local Governments, community groups and individuals who either want to proactively approach renewables companies or who are being approached by these project proponents.

Our principles are here:

In very a very similar vein, the NSW government has this week released the the new requirements for renewable energy developers bidding for tenders in the REZ regions include:

Community Engagement and shared benefits

Some examples of best practice include:

  • Operating a local Community Committee (including First Nations representation), establishing working groups and/or partnering with existing groups

  • Developed a robust organisational baseline to community engagement, with clear internal governance, resourcing and reporting processes.

  • Community Benefit Fund, administered by local council and part of the Voluntary Planning Agreement, $50,000 Per year of operation

  • Supporting ongoing management of co-located Indigenous crops, $20,000 per year

  • Developing community co-ownership schemes or local community co-investment schemes generating returns from energy sales

  • Creating virtual storage tariffs that allow local community members to opt-in to virtual hedging products for storage projects and receive cost-saving benefits.

Land Use Considerations

Some examples of best practice include:

  • Making adjustments to project design or delivery after considering specific local community values and concerns, for example, reduced footprint etc.

  • Allow for the dual use of land through agri-solar initiatives such as for sheep grazing.

  • Collaborate with local First Nations groups to support co-designed indigenous land-care initiatives, for example co-locating solar farms and pollinators for Indigenous beekeeping and/or harvesting purposes.

  • Participation in EnergyCo’s strategic biodiversity offsets program which aims to achieve coordinated, landscape scale biodiversity outcomes.

  • Optimised infrastructure to benefit neighbouring community, for example, establishing a water pipeline from neighbouring landowners

  • Paying for upgrades to degraded land/waterways located near to the project, such as repairing riverbanks.

Local content commitments
  • This requires the operator to purchase Local Content with a value equal to or greater than the percentage of the Total Project Contract Value for each phase of the Project

Local Supply Chain Commitments

The proponent is to invest in, or acquire goods and services, from Local supply chains or Local innovators

Some examples of best practice include:

  • Committed to publishing opportunities with local engineering, procurement and construction contractors on an online portal, such as the NSW Industry Capability Network.

  • Developed an organisational level environmentally sustainable procurement frameworks aligning with government initiatives like the NSW Circular Economy Policy Statement and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Partnered with a research institution and industry bodies to identify opportunities to re-use and recycle lithium-ion battery cells.

  • Funding research and development programs to support local supply chain. This can be utilised by projects in construction or already in operation.

Employment and workforce commitments

Proponents are to employ a number of Learning Workers and Apprentices equal to or greater than the percentage of the total Project workforce

Some examples of best practice include:

  • Appoint a Regional Economic Development Lead to engage with local businesses.

  • Provide a full-time Renewable Workforce Participation Manager who is employed to implement workforce skilling and pre-employment programs and initiatives, including for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups.

  • Partnering with First Nations employment services during pre-construction to support hiring and ongoing management of First Nations workforce.

  • Provide funding for locally based vocational education and training course and is actively working with Training Services NSW, EnergyCo, NSW Skills Board, and Regional NSW Council to deliver new training to meet industry need.

  • Develop a learning hub for projects’ local primary and high schools to support early stages education on renewable energy concepts, during the operations of the Project.

  • Provide funding for scholarships for school leavers, internships, mentoring programs and return to work programs for women and older folk.

The introduction of these guidelines should see an improvement in the quality of renewable energy projects across not just the REZs but also in regions such as the Northwest and possible the rest of Australia. This will be a great benefit not just to rural communities seeking the benefits from renewables, but hopefully it can help approvals be as swift as we need them to be in order for us to reach our Paris Agreement and Net Zero by 2050 goals.

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