Energy transitions in regional Queensland

Amanda Cahill from the Next Economy today presented findings from a recently released report in energy transitions in regional Queensland. The report was built from conversations with over 500 people from different regions across Queensland including Cairns, Townsville, Toowoomba, the South Burnett, Gladstone, and Rockhampton.

The conversation was hosted by the Australian German Climate and Energy College and the Energy Transition Hub and the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. Recording will be available here.

The report outlines a range of opportunities and recommendations for various industry sectors to sustain economies in energy, tourism, land use, mining and manufacturing. These recommendations came from the consulatations which took the form of in-depth interviews, roundtable discussions and workshops. There was a mix of closed and open sessions, and participants came from a range of sectors including government, industry, environment groups, social sector organisations, and civil society.

Amanda’s goal in hosting these workshops and round tables was to surface all of the things happening in energy transitions that are often not heard about. She wanted to put it on record that action is happening in regions. She also wanted to counter politicians’ inertia regarding transitions.

Key questions that framed discussions

The key questions that framed discussions were around how changes to the energy sector are going to affect communities, what is on the ground to manage that, and what can communities do to help manage that change?

Goals of the sessions

  • Update people on the latest information about energy transitions
  • Understand opportunities for that region and work out what else can happen
  • Offer safe spaces to talk about energy futures, question things, and interrogate taboos

Process

Short presentations on what is happening globally/nationally in regards to energy transitions was followed by group discussions around what is happening in the regions.

Findings

Specific findings around the types of opportunities for energy transition can be read in the report, but I was more interested in hearing the social aspects of the conversations than the technical.

  • People called for more government coordination in the energy sector. Industry also called for government to better regulate around the renewable energy sector to remove confusion and reduce the risks associated with investment. Industry also want infrastructure to help development in multiple industries (ports, batteries, regional energy networks, etc).
  • There was a lack of trust, particularly in federal government and it seems that people—and industry—are looking to state and local governments to take action on transitions.
  • People want coordination, action, leadership and a plan from government around transitions. They also want to be involved in the creation of their own transition plans for their region. Rockhampton is particularly vocal about wanting a transition plan, and Amanda noted the existence of a regional university here and their role in development of thinking around transition in the region.
  • Whilst looking after existing industrial workers was a strong theme, people recognise the need for skills diversification beyond heavy industry and there was recognition that we are behind in development in many areas.
  • At the beginning of conversations people were quiet and hesitant to talk. By presenting information about market opportunities and growth in the renewables sector, people became more confident and started to ask questions.
  • In the sessions, getting people to write down all the renewable energy projects that are happening helped to shift the conversation to one of positivity instead of helplessness. It was also helped that they had people from the Hunter and Latrobe Valleys there to talk about their life experience — this was a turning point in discussions.
  • There have been changes in regional Queensland around perceptions on the need to transition. Amanda noted that there is less resistance now than in previous discussions, but an anger that government has made this a political issue. People are more willing, in general, to talk about energy futures.
  • There is high demand for government to support transitions in the region. People can see that transition is going to happen but want to be given the resources to take advantage of it. People know what they want but they are not sure how to capitalise on it.
  • People in regions want to play a part in transition planning but with support from government and industry on the things they can’t do (policy, workforce planning, supply chain development, infrastructure, etc.)
  • COVID has increased concern about economic futures and has emphasised the need for local focus on economic opportunity. Both the bushfires and COVID have been wake up calls for how to build resilience at a local level

Participation

I asked a question around participation in the discussions, particularly about who was missing and any tips Amanda had in reaching these groups so that they can participate in transition mapping in their regions.

Amanda was surprised about the low involvement of unions in the sessions. She later found out that union reps may have been there but didn’t identify themselves. She thought this could have been because of existing contradictions in where unions sit in regards to transitions.

She said that there was a very high turn out from farmers as well as regional university staff (particularly engineering departments).

She also said that, in general, there was a good balance of types of participants and not just the usual domination from green groups. There were representatives from small business, universities, farmers, coal miners, government, industry and the general public.

Renewable energy and jobs in Queensland

Following the presentation I saw a report from ACF on Twitter about the number of renewable energy projects in Queensland. Thought it worth posting a link to this report as well as the map of these projects. An impressive number and distribution.

Map of Queensland showing location of renewable energy projects committed since 2015.
Queensland renewable energy projects committed or contracted since 2015 (Image: ACF).

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Kimberley Crofts

Kimberley Crofts

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Strategic designer and researcher on a quest for sustainable futures through a PhD in participatory methods.