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Solar just kills it every time - Key takeaways from the First Nations Clean Energy Symposium

The First Nations Clean Energy Symposium was definitely a huge success. We covered everything from heartbreaking stories of climate impacts on our most vulnerable communities to groundbreaking community-led energy projects.

This is an extract from an ABC radio interview with Ruby Heard, steering group member of the First Nations Clean Energy Network.

Some of the highlights at the First Nations Clean Energy Symposium were hearing about First Nations in other countries - in Aotearoa and in North America - hearing about their successes and their progress. It's just really inspirational for our people here to hear where they've gotten to. We brought the Indigenous Clean Energy network over from Canada and they met with our politicians in Canberra, and they were really shocked at the differences and the lack of support that they saw there. But we're doing so much work to turn that around and there was a good turnout by government in the room over the last two days - and they actually stayed and they listened to the sessions and they were really engaged. So, we're hopeful.

I think the key asks and takeaways were our mobs need capacity building, our PBCs (Prescribed Body Corporates) need resourcing and funding, we need funding partners with projects, we have energy security problems, and we need enabling federal and state policies.

Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in the context of clean energy projects on First Nations lands was a massive topic over the two days. Every part of that we need to work on - so informed? Our mobs just don't know how to come to the table and have those conversations because they don't have the information that they need.

Some of our best people in our PBCs and in our communities have spent the last maybe 20 years learning how to be native title lawyers essentially. You know, they've really been locked up. Now we're also asking them to become energy experts so it's a huge load. 

Making sure the renewable energy industry doesn't destroy really important culturally significant areas (like what happened with Juukan Gorge) is a concern. And there's the potential for impacts to come from these large scale wind projects and these large scale solar projects. But it's all about communication with the Traditional Owners, understanding where their most sacred sites are and mitigating, avoiding, eliminating the possibility that that will be damaged. And the only way to do that is to make sure that Traditional Owners are engaged from the start, from the planning phase, before you decide where you put things, and that they're on site doing their cultural heritage management the whole time.

We're also talking about what benefit sharing might look like. And so it looks like ongoing jobs, long term maintenance jobs or jobs where they can take new skills and go elsewhere if that's what they choose to do. And increasingly, we're talking about project equity - having an actual stake in the project so that you have ongoing revenue.

We're currently doing First Nations Clean Energy Symposiums every two years but there's so much work that goes on between them. The next big exciting thing is the Federal government's First Nations Clean Energy Strategy which should be coming out very, very soon so we're all waiting to hear how federal policy and funding might assist in this space.

Reducing reliance on diesel and installing solar panels and microgrids in remote First Nations communities is really a no brainer. It makes so much sense - there’s tons of sun in a lot of our northern communities and diesel is so expensive per kilowatt hour of electricity produced. Solar just kills it every single time. But there are some technical constraints to do with these small, isolated grids and the way that generators have constraints around how low that they can go and things like that. And there's some funding constraints, silly things like different buckets of money, no money for capital works potentially for some of these utilities. It's something that we're all working towards.

We don't want to see our communities burning diesel for power. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't align with our values and there's solar there that provides a much better, cheaper and sometimes more reliable option as well when some of those communities get cut off during flooding times and things like that.