Research reveals challenges to renewables

Species like the endangered Green Sea turtle are particularly sensitive to climate change. Photo: Marian Sampson.

THE RESULTS of recent research into the challenges faced in a transition to renewable energy have been released, with one key finding being that a majority of respondents believe community consultation into energy projects is often tokenistic.

Many in Port Stephens hold concerns over the effectiveness and nature of the community consultation into proposed offshore wind developments undertaken by the Federal Government.

The research, ‘This is Transition’, took the form of a twelve-month study of community opinions, values and motivations impacting the country’s shift from coal and gas-fired electricity to renewable power.

The study was conducted by Essential Research and commissioned by ZEN Energy.

The research found a majority of Australians, particularly younger people, place the collective benefits of action on climate change and lower electricity prices ahead of their individual concerns about the impacts of development, as Australia’s transition to renewable energy gathers pace.

This is Transition has also identified warning signs that public support is at risk if communication to communities about the ability of renewable technologies to replace fossil fuel generation isn’t consistent or reinforced over time.

The report’s key findings included:
– 57 percent of Australians believe the main benefits of the renewable energy transition will be meaningful action on climate change, lower energy costs and new career opportunities, with only seventeen percent believing there will be any economic benefits.
– 54 percent of Australians, and 61 percent of young Australians aged 18-34 years, believe meeting national commitments to cutting climate emissions and transitioning to renewable energy should be prioritised over local community concerns about project development. 52 percent of people aged 55 years and older believe local community concerns should be prioritised.
– The number one concern about new energy project development is impacts on the natural environment, including wildlife (61 percent), while the main concern for 27 percent of people is visual impacts of development and transmission lines.
– Australians believe there are two main reasons why the country’s energy transition is facing difficulties: that the technology isn’t advanced enough, and that governments haven’t provided enough leadership.
– 53 percent of Australians want renewable energy developers to collaborate with and involve them in decision-making, but only ten percent of people support decision-making power being handed over to communities.
– In quantitative discussions, the majority of respondents said community consultation is often tokenistic and only a genuine partnership will result in a project being accepted by a local community.

ZEN Energy CEO Anthony Garnaut said the findings of This is Transition reinforces the challenges individual renewable projects are having and highlighted the need for consistent leadership from industry and government.

“This research demonstrates that people don’t view the transition in isolation or on a project-by-project basis.

“The findings show Australians have consultation fatigue and only genuine partnerships will earn a project a social licence.

“We encourage all developers to engage early, involve people in decision-making and co-design of projects.”

EcoNetwork Port Stephens holds concerns about the impact of new energy projects on the natural environment and wildlife, however believes many effects can be significantly reduced with informed planning.

The group’s position is that the consequences of worsening climate change will be far more detrimental to the natural environment than impacts from new green energy projects.

However, they believe solar farms and battery storage should only be placed on degraded lands to avoid clearing bush.

EcoNetwork also notes the recognised impacts of wind turbines of bats and birds at land and sea, but argue a combination of strategies can help mitigate collisions.


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