Australia's energy transition will require access to large areas of land, waters and seas to accommodate thousands of kilometres of new transmission lines for storage and generation projects, and access to critical minerals.
Interaction between the clean energy sector and First Nations is inevitable – First Nations rights and interests in lands and waters are formally recognised over more than 50% of Australia.
Enabling and empowering First Nations to play a central role in the transition goes beyond social licence issues. We must include and embed First Nations as partners in our energy system transformation to deliver ongoing mutual benefits for the whole country.
And while Australia might be a world leader in the deployment of rooftop solar, with approximately one in three houses realising benefits that include reduced energy bills, these benefits are unevenly distributed. Research shows that First Nations residents of public housing in remote Australia using prepay metering experience frequent involuntary and unilateral ‘self-disconnection’ from energy services – a known indicator of insecurity.
With many First Nations communities on the forefront of the devastating impacts of climate change, a lack of energy security can mean living without energy, which means living in the stifling heat as the climate warms, without a refrigerator to keep food fresh and medicines cool, and without the possibility of recharging phones and computers. Disconnections from energy have disastrous consequences on health, well-being, family and economic life, culture and children’s education.
Similarly, many remote First Nations communities get their electricity from diesel generators. Burning diesel is expensive and is known to be harmful to the environment and public health. Supporting community-driven clean energy projects can lead to improved economic development, energy independence, with necessary environmental and health outcomes.
That’s why the First Nations Clean Energy Network was launched in November 2021.
Led by a Steering Group of First Nations peoples, we are bringing our First Nations communities into the energy transformation, to sit at the table, and to be a part of developing the policies and rules for the energy transition, while working in partnership with governments and industry.
This is a critical moment for us to work together and to do things differently. The energy transition cannot be done without First Nations consent, management and knowledge. The Network is a platform for us to work collectively together, driven by First Nations leadership and communities, to tackle with urgency the task of transitioning the energy system and to reset the way our economy extracts from this land.
by Karrina Nolan, a member of the Steering Group for the First Nations Clean Energy Network
This article first appeared in the Smart Energy Council magazine