Principle 1: Genuine and ongoing engagement

Demonstrate a tailored, long-term, and inclusive approach to engaging with the community to help ensure QREZ development ‘involves’ rather than ‘happens’ to local communities. Community voices should have an opportunity to be heard and their interests and concerns must be listened to and mitigated where feasible.

Renewable energy development presents an additional opportunity for investment and jobs in Queensland’s regions with the construction of generation and transmission infrastructure and supporting industries.

It is important to recognise that while these developments bring an opportunity to renew regional areas - by providing jobs, renewable electricity, and value-added industries - ill-considered development may also cause unintended impacts in communities.

Previous research by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) from 2017 demonstrates that community concerns can cover a wide range of issues, including scepticism about the reliability of renewables, concerns about visual or environmental impacts, views on the economic and employment impacts of renewable development, worries about health impacts, and concerns around expansion of transmission infrastructure. There are also growing concerns about competing land uses as the footprint of the renewable energy sector expands.

Planning and engagement processes

Early engagement is critical to ensuring communities are genuinely part of the development process, and that areas of common concern are identified. Engagement needs to be treated as an ongoing part of renewable energy and transmission development; it cannot be left to fall away after initial approvals are secured. It is important that engagement captures the diversity of voices and opinions that make up a local community, with people from a diversity of age, ability and cultural backgrounds having the opportunity to have their say.

It is also critical that engagement reaches local Traditional Owners and First Nations peoples. This should include opportunities to engage Indigenous businesses to support genuine economic participation of local Indigenous people in renewable energy development. Tools such as Black Business Finder - Queensland’s online business directory for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, can help connect companies and Indigenous businesses.

The Queensland Government is committed to ensuring the planning and engagement processes for large-scale renewable projects are of the highest standard. The state has established a state planning code for wind farm developments which was based upon national and international best practice.

The code provides a consistent, coordinated, whole- of-government approach to assessing and regulating wind farm development which puts in place strict guidelines to address community concerns including acoustic management, landscape character, matters of environmental significance, scenic amenity and impacts on local infrastructure.

Solar farm applications, as with all large-scale development proposals, can also generate significant interest within the community. Generally, these developments will require a development approval under the Planning Act 2016 with an application made to the local council who will assess the proposal against the requirements of the local planning scheme.

As part of the development assessment process, the local council will consider the suitability of the site; the proposal’s design, layout, and appearance; and impose conditions that must be complied with during construction and operation. There is often opportunityfor the public to lodge a submission to the proposal as part of statutory public consultation.

The Queensland Government has also released solar farm guidelines for communities, landholders and project proponents about best practice at each stage of a project development cycle. It provides guidance about development assessment and approvals, as well as the community engagement process.

Transmission upgrades - engagement

Delivery of QREZ will require investment in the transmission infrastructure network to connect renewable energy resources to homes and businesses. A key objective of the Energy Security Board’s REZ planning rules that were accepted by Energy Ministers in May 2021 was for transmission planners to engage with local communities so that social licence issues are understood at an earlier stage in the transmission planning process.

Powerlink Queensland, the Queensland Government’s state-owned transmission company, undertakes extensive consultation with affected landholders and other stakeholders when determining the most appropriate location for new or augmented transmission infrastructure.

Powerlink follows a staged process, from preliminary discussions with potentially affected landholders, all the way through to operation and maintenance of the asset. The steps in Powerlink’s landholder engagement and planning approval process are set out in its network development process.

In future, new QREZ renewable energy and transmission infrastructure could create new concerns for communities about the cumulative impact of development. This is why genuine and ongoing engagement is a proposed principle of QREZ to inform how this development is delivered and local benefits generated. It will be important to work closely with communities on how this infrastructure is planned and developed in the long-term to address concerns.

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