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The cowboys are back: Renewables sector being pressured over 'boom time' land grab

Business

A Federal Government report has revealed a potential for a massive land grab in regional Australia as renewable energy projects expand their footprint writes John McCarthy

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The report, by the Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, has also reflected a deep mistrust of the industry among regional landowners.

One submission to the EIC report said: “The proponents simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth.’’

That seems to be a widely-held view that the cowboys are in control, running roughshod over the community.

If that seems familiar, it’s because we heard exactly the same complaints from regional landowners during the coal seam gas expansion of more than a decade ago when a boom time mentality meant landowners were collateral damage in the rush (by some foreign-owned companies) to develop projects.

Just like the CSG boom, it’s the impact on the communities that is of most concern. Often it was the case that too many prospective developers were flooding landowners with requests for access. There was also little or no complaints handling and little to no sharing of benefits.

The report said the potential for new transmission lines and associated corridors has “unleashed a plethora of wind and solar farm developers, descending on the planned routes to attempt to sign up nearby landholders with exclusive contracts over their land’’.

“As a result, there are far more potential renewable generation projects being pursued by developers than the proposed transmission lines may actually accommodate, which can unnecessarily create uncertainty, anxiety and consultation fatigue. These scenarios can also lead to vigorous opposition to the proposed transmission lines, based largely on perception of the amount of generation it may enable, rather than the actual facts.

“Entrepreneurial generation project developers are signing up landholders that have contiguous land parcels along a proposed transmission corridor.

“This could result in the generation project developer holding, effectively, control of a very large length of land along the transmission corridor easement. It may then impact negotiations to secure the easement, particularly if the proposed transmission route impacts the proposed generation project.

“Generation developers can also leverage this, in effect, market power to secure much better terms and outcomes for the generation project and the associated landholders.

“Developers often compete to acquire exclusive land access to investigate projects in proximity to the proposed route.’’

The report is a damning indictment on the renewable industry which is already struggling with its impact on the environment during the construction phase. Despite that, the report does show the Queensland Government has done more than most in providing a suitable framework.

But a lot more needs to be done considering there is expectation that about 5000 km of new and upgraded transmission would be needed in the next decade to meet the demand of the renewable expansion. About 1000 km of the additional transmission has already been completed or was under construction.

The Queensland Government is also in the early stages of the $5 billion CopperString project, which is a transmission line from Townsville to Mt Isa.

The report makes a series of recommendations including a rating system for renewable energy project developers. The system could track the performance of individual companies, particularly in relation to community engagement.

“Developer ratings could be used by jurisdictions as a part of their selection criteria and/or as a prerequisite for granting authority to a developer to prospect or develop a particular site or project,’’ the report said.

And while it doesn’t single out any state, it does highlight good work from the Queensland Government in several key areas.

 

 

 

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