Locals need 'rent' for renewables projects

·2-min read

Locals would find large-scale renewable energy projects more palatable if community funds and similar benefits were made formal.

That's the key finding of a report showing community and neighbour tensions as a major sticking point for planned solar and wind turbine developments.

The Renewables and Rural Australia report says many energy companies offer "benefit-sharing" arrangements like local grant programs on a voluntary basis.

These arrangements should be formalised, says the report by researchers from the Australia Institute and three universities.

"We think it's fair people get rent for hosting infrastructure," the institute's energy adviser Dan Cass told AAP.

Australia's first Renewable Energy Zone will be built in the centre of NSW to generate enough solar and wind energy for 1.4 million homes, delivered via new transmission lines.

Other renewable energy zones are proposed around the state as coal-fired power plants shut down.

Based on energy benchmarks, three zones could generate a combined total of $12 million in annual funding for local initiatives.

"This is a public good, society needs it, and it's intrinsically fair to pay compensation in recognition of the impact it has, and the benefit it's bringing," Mr Cass said.

The report found regional Australians are supportive of sustainable energy, motivated by electricity prices, unreliable services and the cost of diesel-fuelled backups.

But the reality can be complicated, and shared funds can support regions economically and socially.

Researchers visited several towns in the slated central west and northern NSW zones, both of which have existing solar and wind farms, and heard of conflicts during those previous developments.

Some farmers with solar or wind infrastructure on their properties received steady income from the energy companies, which supplemented them during the drought.

But their neighbours missed out.

Others felt energy companies pitted residents against each other to the point where things got "nasty" in one community and water tanks were tampered with, an interviewee said.

Communities spoke of concerns about losing their local workforce and essential services to the energy projects.

Impacts to tourism and a lack of engagement with Indigenous people were also reported.

"Large-scale energy generation brings a constellation of rapid changes that can be challenging for residents," the report said.

"Sensitivity to local residents' social life, connections to land, livelihoods, and values as well as awareness of the dynamic and diversified investment landscape are important considerations."

The Australian Energy Market Operator has identified 35 sites as potential renewables zones, from northern Queensland to Tasmania.

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