Western Australia has very strong solar resources and nationally competitive wind resources that are largely untapped. There is clearly much potential for the development of clean energy projects on land where First Nations communities hold an interest.
So finds a new policy overview of the state of Western Australia which examines the energy landscape in the state including land rights and native title, renewable energy resources and projects, finance and funding, and the state's energy policies.
First Nations capacity
The significant impact of mining and resources industries across much of the State means that many PBCs, native title claimants, and native title representative bodies have experience negotiating complex Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) or ancillary agreements to agreements reached under section 31 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). In some cases, these agreements have provided funding and other opportunities to develop capacity and capability.
Some PBCs, Aboriginal corporations and Native Title Representative Bodies in the State have also negotiated (and continue to negotiate and enter into) a variety of different commercial arrangements relating to housing, heritage, pastoralism, tourism, resources projects, and emissions reduction projects.
Some community corporations have experience in delivering services and facilitating or maintaining smaller infrastructure projects.
Despite this, there are many First Nations organisations that have limited access to the key resources they need to develop their organisational capacity. Particular challenges can be cash flow, meeting competing organisational priorities, and finding staff or advisors with the right skills who understand the unique legislative framework that PBCs operate in and which the organisations can afford to engage.
First Nations participation in energy
There are three large and unique First Nations and renewable energy developer project partnerships in the pipeline for WA including:
- Western Green Energy Hub (WGEH)
- Yindjibarndi Energy Corporation (YEC)
- East Kimberley Clean Energy Project.
There are also other First Nations enterprises participating in the energy transition such as Tjiwarl Katu Power.
The paper finds there is significant potential to develop clean energy projects in areas where First Nations communities hold land interests and First Nations organisations are already developing proposals, projects or businesses to participate in the clean energy transition. Those Prescribed Body Corporates (PBCs) and other First Nations organisations with significant land interests near water resources, transmission lines or major existing projects are particularly well placed and should consider seeking their own advice about their options.
First Nations communities hold extensive land interests in some of the areas which are most suited to large scale renewables projects in the state. There is a strong interest from industry in developing First Nations partnerships for these kinds of projects and several have already been announced.
There is also a significant opportunity for clean energy projects on First Nations land in mining regions given that the mining sector consumes 32% of energy in WA and mining companies are under increasing pressure to decarbonise their operations. In addition, there is potential to develop projects for the extraction of critical minerals deemed essential for the national transition to renewables.
On a smaller scale, microgrid, standalone power and embedded network projects are well suited to remote communities and First Nations communities may consider providing land for these projects or developing the projects themselves.
Public submissions in relation to proposed projects in Western Australia are usually invited and community members can make submissions in support of a project or to oppose all or some aspects of a project. This can present an opportunity for First Nations communities to talk to clean energy companies proposing projects in their region.
Advice to proponents
It is important that any third party approaching a First Nations organisation to undertake activities on Country is prepared to fund the provision of independent legal, commercial and other expert advice to ensure that the First Nations organisation and the people it represents can properly participate in any negotiations. Independent, expert advice is critical to obtaining free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
The paper has a lot more information of relevance to First Nations, industry and government.