Pilbara conference drives Indigenous leadership in clean energy boom

A round table discussion held last week has paved the way for a clear clean energy future for First Nations communities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

In August 2022, the Federal Government and state and territory energy ministers committed to creating a First Nations’ Clean Energy Strategy, to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to play a role in the country’s energy transformation.

Ministers committed to resource community meetings to support the First Nations’ Clean Energy Network’s three pillars of “community, industry partnerships and policy reform”.

The First Nations’ Clean Energy Strategy is being created to review laws, regulation and policy, lift barriers and implement regulatory reform, and to facilitate greater government investment in innovation, technology and infrastructure.

Two men position solar panels onto the roof of a house.
Solar panels being installed in Western Australia. Credit: First Nations Clean Energy Network.

Yorta Yorta woman and First Nations’ Clean Energy Network member, Karrina Nolan, says the two-day round table was “the first of many” that would help outline a clean energy and investment vision by communities in and around the Pilbara.

“The round tables bring people together to talk about what’s working and what’s not,” says Nolan.

Key topics included education and information, opportunity and co-benefits, capacity and resourcing, the need to have free, prior and informed consent and energy security.

Many remote communities have an unreliable and expensive power supply, a situation becoming more difficult as the cost of living rises.

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First Nations Clean Energy Network member, Luritja man Chris Croker, says: “People have a chequered history with mining projects and the extractive industries on their land, and this is a chance to reset that.”

Nolan agrees the time is optimum for “doing development right this time”, protecting country and sacred sites while “delivering reliable power, jobs and economic opportunity for our communities”.

“This show of commitment from energy ministers means we have an opportunity to position First Nations peoples as co-designers and drivers of projects,” Nolan says.

“And with Indigenous land title now recognised over more than half of the Australian continent, First Nations’ land and consent will be more critical than ever.

“Once the First Nations Clean Energy Strategy is in the government’s hands, it will then be the job of Minister (Chris) Bowen and governments at all levels (to be) rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the job of implementing it.”

The next round table will be held in Alice Springs in May.

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