In the coming decades Australia is set to see a dramatic expansion in renewable energy projects. It is likely that many of these will occur on land subject to Indigenous rights and interests. This paper looks to extractive industry experience in negotiating access and benefit sharing agreements with traditional owners to identify best practice to date.
The paper concludes that while the guiding principles and the content of access and benefit sharing agreements may be quite similar between the extractive and renewable industries, there are a number of critical differences between these industries that may impact agreement content. These are that renewable energy developments use a completely renewable resource; are usually not limited to specific geographic areas (although certain areas are more conducive to both wind and solar projects); generally require a much greater land area; have physical impacts that are almost completely reversible; affect visual amenity over greater distances (in the case of wind); are potentially in place for more than one generation; and may allow traditional owners continued land access. Additionally, the use of native title land for renewable energy projects will raise different issues for native title holders and companies than the renewable energy industry’s experience to date with neighbouring communities in high population areas.
Keywords: native title; land access and benefit sharing agreements; renewable energy; social licence to operate; corporate social responsibility.