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First Nations have a significant opportunity in Queensland's clean energy industry

Despite significant energy justice issues, there is great opportunity for First Nations to play a leading role in the clean energy industry in Queensland, particularly given the scale of projects proposed.

A new Network paper looks at Queensland's current policy platform and its impact on both First Nations and the clean energy transition.

Queensland has very strong solar resources, and also high quality and nationally competitive wind resources and there is clearly much potential for the development of clean energy projects on First Nations-titled lands. 

The Queensland State government has committed to 50% renewable energy by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2050. More than 20% of consumption is currently generated from renewable energy sources.

Some 44.4% of suitable dwellings having solar photovoltaic (PV) installed to date. However, accessing the benefits of rooftop solar is very difficult for many First Nations, especially for people living in social housing, rental housing and in remote areas. 

The 33 isolated autonomous microgrid systems operating outside of the National Electricity Market in Queensland are mostly powered by diesel, with some customer-owned rooftop solar PV, and centralised renewable energy installations.

First Nations communities located within the 33 isolated energy networks have a reduced opportunity to benefit from renewable energy. Many cannot connect more solar PV due to voltage constraints. Further, the isolated networks operating with prepaid cards for the supply of electricity to households and small businesses do not allow for a solar feed-in tariff to incentivise these houses to take up the benefits of solar PV (although in other jurisdictions these policy and regulatory barriers have been overcome).

Existing relationships between First Nations and the energy sector 

The renewable energy sector operates across many levels in the Queensland context and includes Government owned and private projects.

Large-scale projects of note include five wind farms currently proposed in the Northern Queensland Renewable Energy Zone.

Windlabʼs 400 megawatt (MW) Upper Burdekin Wind Farm involves a partnership with native title holders - the Gugu Badhun, to enable Indigenous stewardship for the projectʼs environmental management strategy under the Gugu Badhun-Windlab Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA).

The 445MW Aldoga Solar Farm is described as a ʻflagship renewable energy projectʼ that will be built on Economic Development Queenslandʼs (EDQ) land. It has signalled an intention to work with First Nations businesses to procure services, equipment and workforce.

The 352MW Western Downs Green Power Hub located on the lands of the Barunggam people has also committed to an ambitious 10% Indigenous participation target for employment and supply chain procurement for their project.

Aside from the potential involvement in energy generation projects, opportunities exist for groups to engage in new industrial projects powered by clean energy.

For example, in Gladstone, in an initiative announced at the start of the inaugural summit of the First Nations Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Hydrogen Utility® (H2U) and the First Nations Bailai, Gurang, Gooreng Gooreng, Taribelang Bunda Peoples Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC executed a Memorandum of Understanding about H2U's H2-HubTM Gladstone project, a multi-billion dollar renewable energy complex producing green hydrogen and green ammonia, proposed to be established in the Yarwun region of the Gladstone State Development Area.


Native title has been recognised on around one third of the State of Queensland, and around 6.23 million hectares of land is owned by First Nations groups as a special tenure called freehold Aboriginal land or freehold Torres Strait Islander land. 

The paper finds there is much potential to develop clean energy projects on First Nations title lands, with many potential sites that could be viable for First Nations-led clean energy projects.

There is also potential to develop projects for the extraction of critical minerals deemed essential for the national transition to renewables.

Where energy projects are proposed, there will be strong opportunities for the negotiation of equitable benefits.

In October 2022 the Regional Energy Transformation Partnerships Framework was released for consultation. This includes Principle 6: Empower First Nations peoples, which states: The Queensland Government will empower First Nations peoples as part of the energy transformation, underpinned by inclusive engagement to enhance opportunities for employment and business participation.

The Government further states a commitment to ongoing engagement to identify what local First Nations people want from the energy transformation in their communities and to deliver on that. This includes that the cultural values of the land are respected and maintained.

As part of the assessment process for renewable energy projects, the Queensland Government has also released Solar Farm Guidelines for communities, landholders and project proponents.

The Guide states that during feasibility and planning “Engagement with Traditional Owners will focus on identifying, managing, or otherwise excluding areas of cultural heritage value. The proponent and Traditional Owners may need to continue or complete negotiations to finalise a cultural heritage management plan (CHMP) for the life of the project”.

The process is set out in the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld) and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld). Then in the development phase, beyond the cultural heritage management plan (CHMP) requirements that may occur, the Guidelines refer to further engagement for social sustainability, local industry participation or diversity initiatives.

The operations phase refers to a focus on social sustainability and long-term community involvement for First Nations people.

The paper also provides intel on housing, jobs and training, and funding mechanisms.





Thanks to Hoshi Moshi for the photo!