Renewable Energy Projects on the Indigenous Estate: Identifying Risks and Opportunities of Utility-Scale and Dispersed Models

Detail from Gulach 2006 by Terry Ngamandara Wilson
Year published: 2019
Issue no.: 130


Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions have very high rates of Indigenous land tenure, whilst hosting some of world’s best co-located solar and wind energy resources. Simultaneously, technological advances in energy transmission and distribution raises the possibility of renewable energy export into Southeast Asia.

This paper builds upon previous work (O’Neill, L., Thorburn, K. and Hunt, J. (2019), Ensuring Indigenous benefit from large-scale renewable energy projects: Drawing on experience from extractive industry agreement making, Working Paper No. 127, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra) in considering the opportunities and risks of renewable energy developments for Indigenous communities in these regions. It considers renewable energy developments at two different scales – utility-scale and smaller dispersed models, finding that communities are more likely to obtain broader social and economic benefits from developments in which they have a significant financial stake and have power over aspects of development.

Proponents of utility-scale developments may negotiate agreements to offer Indigenous people access to energy, financial compensation for land use, or a stake in ownership. Yet, in considering research from the extractives industry in relation to agreement making we find that broader social and economic benefits for communities are often less than predicted. Research from Canada that looks at the potential for Indigenous ownership of smaller scale renewable energy developments to address local need and benefit, highlights the importance of First Nations’ voices in discussions of regional economic development associated with the coming energy transition.

Keywords: native title, renewable energy, utility-scale, Indigenous estate

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