The rise of renewable energy is providing new opportunities for Indigenous businesses and remote communities.
Indigenous Australians are becoming key players in the renewable energy market, with stakes in two groundbreaking projects.
In Western Australia (WA), a new model of renewable energy investment is being pioneered with Indigenous enterprises as equity partners.
Carnegie Clean Energy Limited selected the Perth Noongar Foundation (PNF) and Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) as co-equity investors in the $17 million 10 MW Northam Solar Farm.
The project was designed to offer profit to investors from a range of revenue streams in addition to power sales. These include sales of renewable energy certificates, reserve capacity credit payments, a project development fee when the project reaches financial close and a share of the Engineer Procure Construct (EPC) as well as operation and maintenance margins.
IBA CEO Rajiv Viswanathan said the project was an example of private and public sectors partnering with Indigenous investors to promote the impact investment.
“IBA is actively considering other impact investment opportunities, as announced in its recent launch of its Indigenous Investment Partnerships initiative,” Viswanathan said.
According to PNF Chairman Cedric Jacobs, the project helps the Noongar people fulfill their cultural responsibility to protect and nurture the land.
“It offers our people, and the greater community, access to a clean, renewable energy that is sustainable and aligns with our cultural values and responsibilities,” Jacobs said.
Carnegie’s Managing Director Dr Michael Ottaviano said that he was delighted to be working with IBA and PNF in their first investment in WA’s renewable energy market.
“The Northam Solar Project is a great step forward in Carnegie’s strategy of developing a mixture of customer-owned projects that generate an immediate return at the completion of construction and self-owned projects that generate an annuity return over the life of the project,” Ottaviano said.
Renewables for remote communities
Remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory are also reaping the rewards of environmentally friendly, reliable energy. In September last year, Nauiyu (also known as Daly River) became the first town to meet the NT government’s 50 per cent clean energy target.
Located 200 km from Darwin, the remote community now runs on solar power alone during daylight hours, saving almost 400,000 litres of diesel fuel per year.
The $854,000 project was constructed by Indigenous Essential Services, a subsidiary company of Power and Water Corporation (PWC), with $462,000 of funding pitched in by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
The 1 MW solar-diesel ‘mini-grid’ consists of 3200 photovoltaic solar panels that charge a 2 MWh lithium ion battery. The project is part of the company’s $55 million Solar Energy Transformation Program, which has now installed solar power in 10 remote communities, with more to follow this year.
PWC Chief Executive Michael Thompson said in a media release that an essential part of the process was to build the community’s understanding of how the battery and solar panels worked, and their benefits to the people and their environment.
“Ensuring the community has a sense of ownership is a key area of focus and crucial for the project’s success,” Thompson said.
Nauiyu elder Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr told SBS News that the shift to renewable energy fits with the community’s traditional way of life.
“We’ve always been people that look after nature and now its amazing with having solar – it’s in that mindset of ours in a traditional sense. It’s also going to help nature in the long run,” Ungunmerr explained.