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EXCLUSIVE: New Indigenous economic rider to Albanese's $70b renewables scheme

David Prestipino -

Specific merit criteria ensuring energy proponents included quality engagement and benefit sharing with First Nations would be introduced to the federal government's new Capacity Investment Scheme tender process.

A government representative told the two-day First Nations Clean Energy Symposium in Adelaide on Thursday the Capacity Investment Scheme - a $70 billion investment in renewable energy generation and capacity over four years - would preference tenders with positive First Nations involvement.

The CIS was designed to meet the federal government’s 2030 renewable energy targets, and would sit under the National Energy Transformation Partnership.

Speaking to hundreds of delegates in Adelaide yesterday, Simon Duggan, deputy secretary of the departmental team advising Federal climate change and energy minister Chris Bowen, revealed the CIS merit conditions for investors and project proponents.

They would assess projects against two Indigenous-focused criteria: the quality and productivity of engagement with First Nations; and if projects can provide First Nations with the opportunity to increase social and economic benefits such as ownership, revenue sharing, partnering, employment, and funding for sub-contracting of Indigenous businesses.

The 350-strong audience were told a market brief released later this week would include information on how to assess projects, with further options launched mid-year, and then every 6 months.

Criteria would continuously be reviewed and revised during the four-year scheme.

First Nations Clean Energy Network co-chair Chris Croker said the government's merit criteria for Indigenous communities was a soft start compared to other countries with First Nations engagement on renewables projects. 

"The CIS provides an opportunity for the Australian Government to set benchmarks for benefit sharing, economic participation, and equity ownership for First Nations communities, by mandating the need for a significant percentage of First Nations equity," he said.

"Embedding First Nations outcomes into the design of the CIS de-risks projects and adds commercial value through the auction process, by ensuring proponents properly engage with First Nations communities.

"If done properly, the right targeted and eligibility merit criteria can deliver mutually beneficial outcomes for both First Nations communities and proponents, by reducing risk and increasing shareholder value gained through First Nations partnerships and ownership of projects."

Recent international research showed community support via ownership of renewable energy projects drove long-term success, as it reduced the risk of projects being abandoned, lowered investment risks, and produced three times higher economic benefits.

Global benchmarks for First Nations benefit sharing, economic participation and equity ownership of projects had already been set in South Africa, and the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Canada, which recently set minimum Indigenous equity requirements of at least 25 per cent for Canada BC Hydro's Call To Power project.

Mr Croker said he expected similar rates of minimum equity ownership percentage targets in CIS tenders this year.

"In addition, we also look forward to to revenue sharing, employment and training and skills development outcomes, additional procurement opportunities, key decision-making roles, and engagement and impact mitigation, including for cultural heritage and environment," he said.

Recent modelling by Net Zero Australia estimated 43 per cent of all clean energy infrastructure required for Australia to reach its net zero emissions target by 2060, would need to be sited on Indigenous lands.

The two-day symposium in Adelaide discussed next steps First Nations groups must take to ensure they were at the table in major clean energy project negotiations on their Country.

Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation group CEO Joe Morrison said projects were de-risked when First Nations organisations were deeply involved.

"Real equity in First Nations businesses going forward is critical," said Mr Morrison, a sentiment shared by Karrina Nolan, co-chair of the First Nations Clean Energy Network with Mr Croker.

"It’s not just about clean energy, it’s about our futures and also about the nation’s future ... we can't move forward without First Nations being front and centre of Australia's energy revolution," she said.

Professor Robynne Quiggin, one of 12 steering group members of the First Nations Clean Energy Network and a Net Zero Agency Advisory Board member, said impending government legislation would set up free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) more permanently for First Nations.

"It starts with consent ... we will define what consent is, not the parties that come to us," she said. 

More information on the 2024 First Nations Clean Energy Symposium is available online.

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