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Traditional Owners in Pilbara strike massive green energy deal

David Prestipino -

A massive billion-dollar renewable energy project will kickstart Australia's renewable energy transition in the Pilbara after a partnership between Traditional Owners and Filipino-listed ACEN.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) and the South-East Asian renewable energy giant announced on Tuesday plans to develop, own and operate large-scale green energy projects of up to 3 gigawatts in WA's iron ore-rich Pilbara region.

The agreement will focus on wind, solar and battery projects and includes principles ensuring Yindjibarndi approval of all proposed project sites, equity participation of 25-50 per cent across all projects and preferred contracting, training and employment for Yindjibarndi businesses and people.

The First Nations corporation and ACEN formed Yindjibarndi Energy Corporation in June to develop the projects, which will stretch across the 13,000sqkm where Yindjibarndi native title was determined.

Some of the world's biggest industrial energy users are based in the Pilbara, far from the national electricity grid, and require clean, reliable power to meet carbon neutral goals.

Plans include more than $1 billion for 750 megawatts of wind, solar, and battery storage to be in construction within the next few years, with stage two to target a further two to three gigawatts.

YAC chief executive Michael Woodley said the ACEN partnership meant the Yindjibarndi people could actively participate in Australia's renewable energy transition and ensured they could protect and preserve areas within Yindjibarndi Ngurra of cultural significance.

"We know that our country is well located for renewable energy development, so we made the decision early to lead," he said.

"We established a small team and set out to find a partner with the right capabilities and values, which led us to ACEN."

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said the landmark agreement set a new benchmark for meaningful First Nations participation in Australia's clean energy transition.

"It represents the kind of leadership and innovation that is needed to drive Australia's equitable transition to becoming a renewable energy powerhouse," he said.

ACEN has led some of Australia's biggest renewables projects, including the New England solar farm in NSW, where the $650 million, 400-megawatt first stage went live in March.

ACEN International chief executive Patrice Clausse said the organisation was grateful for the trust of the Yindjibarndi community in exploring development opportunities.

"The Pilbara region is home to some of the largest industrial energy users globally, many of which have expressed their desire to participate in a transition to a carbon-neutral future," he said.

The Pilbara has several large solar farms, but there has been no construction of wind generation that is critical to provide 24-hour power, so high levels of renewable energy can be achieved without excessive amounts of expensive battery storage.

Rio Tinto has pledged to halve its emissions in the Pilbara by 2030, BHP has targeted a 30 per cent cut across its global operations, including $US2 billion of projects in WA's North-West, while FMG has aimed for net-zero emissions by the end of the decade.

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