Empowering Farmers: A seat at the table to navigate the renewable energy transition

There’s a seismic shift happening across rural Australia as the renewable energy transition takes hold, and the opportunities and risks are some of the biggest we’ll see in our lifetime. But too often the scales are tipped against farmers and regional communities who are hosting these renewable energy projects. Their voices aren’t being heard because they don’t have a seat at the table.

I’ve engaged with hundreds of regional stakeholders in my capacity as CEO of RELA while negotiating fair and equitable lease terms. Their message is the same – they’re concerned about what a greener future means for them, their land and those around them. Questions around receiving fair value, preserving biodiversity, fostering agricultural-energy cohabitation, ensuring land is restored after the project is finished and taking into account the broader community, echoed throughout these discussions.

We know that farmers bring invaluable insights into the intricacies of their land, their communities and the integration of renewable energy projects. But without the opportunity to use this knowledge and participate in the decision-making process, developers will never truly have a social licence for these projects.

That’s why we need to bridge the knowledge gap, combining the developer’s expertise on renewables, and the farmer’s intricate understanding of the ecosystem around them.

So what does this look like? In practical terms, this means a transparent and competitive process so that landowners and developers get a fair share of the value while balancing the risk. It means giving equal regard to the farm plan in project design, to safeguard productivity and promote the cohabitation of food and energy production. It means developers need to properly prepare for decommissioning with sufficient funding, because long-term planning means long-term land preservation.

RELA shares these core beliefs – it’s the reason we’re striving to create a more equitable marketplace, but it’s crucial that all industry players become more collaborative on this journey.

An equitable interaction between farming operations and renewable energy development is not only possible, but imperative. It necessitates a balanced negotiation process that accounts for the interests of all parties involved. As negotiations become fairer and more balanced, social licence naturally follows.

This was made abundantly clear in the recent Dyer report, which highlighted the need for equitability – for all parties to share fairly in the benefits of the renewable transition.

We can achieve this by empowering farmers with the necessary tools and knowledge, and valuing their insights about the land and community. Doing that paves the way for a future where farmers and developers are aligned, and both agricultural and renewable energy objectives are achieved.

That is an outcome worth fighting for.


Opinion Piece written by Michael Katz CEO of RELA and featured in Queensland Country Life, The Land, Stock & Land, and FarmOnline (March 20th 2024)