Rural voices must be heard in energy transition

Oct 26, 2023 | Column

SA’s transition to renewable energy has captured the attention of policy makers and industry alike, particularly as we grapple with the impacts of climate change and the need to do more to reduce our emissions.

In just over 16 years, SA’s electricity mix has shifted from below one per cent to more than 70pc of its electricity being generated from renewable sources of wind and solar, with battery back-up.

The Australian Energy Market Operator forecasts this to rise to 85pc by 2025-26 and SA has a goal of achieving 100pc net renewables by 2030.

Farmers and rural communities not only have an interest in receiving affordable and reliable energy for the future, but they will also host much of the energy infrastructure fundamental to the transition required.

The electricity network is changing from having power generated at a single source to be transmitted out across the state, to now being a grid of multi-lane distribution with multiple generating sites from designated renewable energy zones.

There is much to contemplate with this change. Increasing competition for agricultural land is becoming more intense.

Government policy needs to balance agricultural needs with competing land uses and PPSA is focused on reducing this conflict.

I recently participated in a panel discussion on ‘Social Licence Challenge in the Energy Sector Transition’ hosted by the Australian Institute of Energy SA which gave me further cause for contemplation.

According to AEMO’s integrated system plan, 10,000 kilometres of high-voltage transmission lines will be required to be built nationally by 2030 to support Australia’s clean energy transition.

Effective community consultation and social engagement are critical if this is to be done properly, and to provide just benefits to those communities and private landholders who must inevitably host much of this new opportunity.

It is important landholders are prepared to engage in discussions with government and energy companies about the impact of generation and transmission networks on their property.

This usually requires legal and financial advice at a minimum.

Concerns include the impact on property values from the placement of transmission lines, the impact on machinery operations and land management practices, and biosecurity concerns from contractors coming and going, particularly if landholders cannot control who accesses their land and under what conditions.

The SA Government’s proposed Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Bill will have consequences for how these engagements occur, and for how decisions are made in relation to energy developments.

Beyond installation, there also needs to be agreements about the removal of this infrastructure at end-of-life and how the cost of this is addressed.

The changing nature of energy generation in SA provides a great opportunity for SA to plan its distribution corridors with consider- able care, forward planning and community consultation undertaken in advance of their soon-to-be urgent installation.

It is also an opportunity to think about new strategies for regional development that provide for value-added manufacturing to be established in key regional centres, close to new renewable energy production zones.

This column was written by PPSA Chair Professor Simon Maddocks and first appeared in the October 26 2023 edition of Stock Journal.

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