The nation's peak farming body has welcomed a review of community engagement surrounding renewable energy projects but has also called for more "concrete" action.
National Farmers Federation (NFF) president, David Jochinke, was commenting after the release of Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, Andrew Dyer's review on Friday, February 2. Energy and climate change minister, Chris Bowen and Mr Dyer released the report at Gullen Range wind farm, near Crookwell.
The 43-page report includes nine recommendations on ways to improve community engagement on renewable energy projects. The government has accepted the recommendations "in principle." Mr Bowen said it would ensure projects were built in the right locations by the right people.
Mr Jochinke highlighted the report's findings that "a staggering" 92 per cent of respondents to Mr Dyer's survey were dissatisfied with the level of engagement from project developers. Further, more than 90pc of people were dissatisfied with the information being provided or with their concerns being resolved.
"This is a staggeringly poor reflection on the situation to date and it simply can't go on," Mr Jochinke said in a statement.
"Yet the report does very little to provide concrete solutions, instead referring to development of best practice guidelines and rating schemes.
"This is the exact kind of bureaucracy farmers and every day Australians are sick and tired of. It will do nothing to reassure farmers and communities their interests are being acknowledged or protected."
But at Gullen Range wind farm on Friday, NFF chief executive Tony Mahar described it as "a great report" on which all parties could build.
"The report confirms what has been a breathtakingly poor reflection on the intersection between agriculture and renewable energy," he said.
"...What we need now is for the government to make sure it does implement the recommendations and it needs to be a starting point."
Mr Dyer received 500 submissions, 250 survey responses and held 75 round table meetings as part of the review.
He said poor engagement practices experienced by landholders and the community had resulted in a "material distrust of project developers", particularly those proposing long-distance energy transmission and electricity generation projects.
Mr Bowen said a rating system would assess developers' community engagement performance and capability. This would sort the "serious" proponents from "the cowboys." Only those projects that met performance expectations would be selected.
However Mr Dyer suggested it operate on a voluntary basis, where developers could opt in or out at any time.
Mr Dyer also recommended better mapping to establish the areas most suited to renewable energy. This would avoid time wasting and "unnecessary" community engagement.
He cited one project that had been in the planning for 20 years, creating community uncertainty over impacts and compensation.
Other recommendations include:
- Improving project planning and environmental approval processes by establishing 'no-go' zones;
- Establishing an ombudsman in each state to handle complaints;
- Improving understanding of "the need for" the renewable energy transition, including what is to be deployed in the regions, where, when and why;
- Improving acceptance of the transition changes and impacts by engaging communities and identifying opportunities and benefits.
"Like a boomerang that returns if you throw it properly, this report and its recommendations now rest on timely implementation and strong, ongoing leadership," Mr Dyer said.
The NFF also criticised the report for containing no mention of tax treatment of payments to landholders or compensation for hosting renewable energy projects. Mr Jochinke said there also needed to be equitable processes for negotiation of access and payment regimes.
Asked about compensation for landholders, Mr Bowen said the eastern states had done "a good job" on this front. NSW laws dictate that transmission line hosts are paid $10,000 annually for 20 years for every kilometre of new line on their property.
"There can always be a conversation about doing more," Mr Bowen said.
Mr Dyer said a "more systemic approach" was also needed for the neighbours to transmission lines.
Action groups along the proposed 360km HumeLink transmission line have called for it to be placed underground.
But Mr Bowen said while this might be acceptable in some places, it was "very expensive and not the right answer in most cases."
The report stated that "far more renewable generation projects are being pursued by developers than the proposed transmission lines can actually accommodate." This could create uncertainty, anxiety and consultation fatigue."
Mr Bowen said the regions were very important to Australia's energy future, given the space.
The government has set a renewable energy target of 82pc by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
"This (energy) revolution is very much in the national interest. I want to see it's also in the interests of regions, landowners and farmers and I'm committed to that. We have work to do," he said.
Mr Bowen said the report's recommendations were accepted in principle as they had to be worked through with state, territory and local governments.
The full report can be viewed at https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/renewable/community-engagement-review