Acquiring Social Licence for Electricity Transmission

Acquiring Social Licence for Electricity Transmission

The Regulatory process should consider a fuller range of public policies

Opposition to large-scale overhead transmission has rapidly emerged across the nation. This signals a new challenge that will be faced by new transmission project unless this opposition is actively considered, genuinely understood, benefit models explored, and social licence is acquired and maintained for electricity transmission. This will enable a rapid, sustainable, and just transition from coal to renewables by enabling development of least-impact, least-regret solutions.

To better manage matters of social licence and build trust for transmission, reports typically recommend the industry could develop a balanced approach to early engagement, community benefit and compensation issues. The energy industry and governments can do more to understand and appreciate that community benefits and compensation may not be the quick-fix solutions they hoped they might be. In fact, pushing the 'talk to them early and pay them more' agenda is very likely to further dilute trust, increase opposition and dissolve any credible opportunity to acquire social licence.

Failure to actively consider social licence, environment, and emissions during RIT–T and ISP modelling has led to poor outcomes in assessing the net worth of new transmissions projects. Unless addressed, the current framework will continue to erode opportunities to acquire social licence. Failure to apply appropriate calculation of costs and benefits of integrated-projects and develop appropriate regulatory arrangements for transmission network projects will come at great cost to consumers, market participants and the economy. And at great cost to acquisition of social licence.

There is an urgent need for regulatory reform to better facilitate acquisition of social licence for all industry participants. The reform required will take time that some may argue we do not have, but you must ask; what is the consequence of inaction on this much needed reform?

When you consider the 'business as usual' alternative, the cost of inaction will lead to increased opposition to overhead transmission projects across the nation and the market will dispense with any opportunity to acquire social licence.

The resulting material project delays will adversely impact the industry, economy, consumers, investors and above all, our legislated climate change objectives. The industry can do more to actively consider issues beyond power system and economic modelling in its planning decisions, and better reflect matters affecting social licence at every stage of its analysis.

The purpose of this paper is to:

  • establish the scale and depth of opposition, as this extends well beyond the poles and wires
  • offer a deeper understanding of the reasons regional communities are pushing back under threat of loss of place
  • provide an overview of proposed industry solutions
  • explore the regulatory framework and discuss why a fit-for-purpose regulatory environment is required to acquire social licence and better facilitate delivery of transmission
  • provide insights into how the energy industry can work towards acquiring social licence
  • discuss opportunities to develop a genuine socially and environmentally responsible process that seeks to understand the least-impact, least-regret solution during a project's inception rather than financially compensating for oversights made during the planning stage
  • introduce the concept of a community-first framework to better build the widespread support needed to accelerate climate action
  • advocate for the much-needed reform and make recommendations to better facilitate delivery of electricity transmission projects.

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