Daniel Wild On ABC Breakfast Riverland Discussing The Land Use Impact Of Net Zero Renewables – 12 December 2023

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12 December 2023
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In this interview, Daniel Wild contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into land use implications of renewable energy targets on prime agricultural land, conducted as part of the IPA’s Net Zero research program.

All media posted onto the IPA website are directly related to the promotion and dissemination of IPA research.

Below is a transcript of the interview.


Stephanie Nitschke:

We know that South Australia is committed to generating more renewable in energy in the future. However, to build solar farms or wind turbines, you do need a lot of land. And a lot of the acres they need to deliver this energy is prime agricultural farming land. So how do the farmers feel about all this? Well, that’s exactly what the Institute of Public Affairs, or IPA, is here to find out.

Daniel Wild is the deputy executive director of the IPA. Good morning, Daniel.

Daniel Wild:

Good day, Steph. Lovely to be with you.

Stephanie Nitschke:

Yeah. Now, firstly, why did you want to undertake a tour like this of the regions, and what are you hoping to find out?

Daniel Wild:

Yeah, look, there’s a couple of things. We’ve been touring through regions around Australia for the last 12 to 18 months, just trying to understand the issues on the ground from farmers, landowners, and local communities about these renewable energy projects. And what we’ve learned is that there’s a lot of division. Some are in favour of it, but a lot are very concerned about what this will mean for their farmland.

As you said, if you want to have wind turbines and solar panels, you need a lot of land to do that. We released some analysis yesterday suggesting that up to one-third of Australia’s prime agricultural farmland could be taken up by this renewable energy infrastructure. So like I say, the key thing we’ve got out of our meetings is that it’s quite divisive on the ground, and there’s a feeling that the concerns of a lot of locals aren’t being heard in the cities.

Stephanie Nitschke:

Okay. And so I understand you were in the Riverland yesterday.

Daniel Wild:

Yeah, that’s right. So we were in Renmark and Barry and a couple of other areas yesterday, and then just over the border today. I’m speaking to you from Gol Gol, just as we head along down to Kerang and Swan Hill and those areas. So no, see, look, very important to talk to locals about this because often there’s a bit of a division between the city and the bush, and also between ideas that people might like the sound of, like net zero sounds like a good idea at one level, but then you’ve got to understand the practical consequences of what it will mean. And like I say, it’s often people in the country that are incurring the costs than who are on the front line of this.

Stephanie Nitschke:

Yeah. So do you have a figure for how much land you predict we’re going to need for solar and wind or renewable energy projects in this area or South Australia more broadly?

Daniel Wild:

Look, across Australia, we estimate it’s up to about one third of agricultural land that would be required to meet the government’s net zero targets. What’s interesting is the government hasn’t just committed to Australia being at net zero, but they also have an ambition to replace our exports, our fossil fuel exports, with renewable energy exports as well, and that requires a significant amount of land to be able to generate that.

And one of the concerns on the ground is what will this mean for our food security? One of the things, as you and your listeners would be aware of, that so many people are proud of, is that we not only are able to feed ourselves, but we feed ourselves three times over and we can export that around the world. But if we’re taking up too much land with renewable energy infrastructure, that means there’s less land for food and fibre and those critical resources that we have. So I’m not sure that these implications have been fully considered or thought through.

Stephanie Nitschke:

Right, okay. Yeah, it’s definitely a delicate balance. And so Daniel, you did mention you were in the Riverland yesterday, and you said that on your journey you’ve seen that it’s become quite divisive. Is that what you got from yesterday’s meetings here in the Riverland as well?

Daniel Wild:

Yeah, that’s what we’ve got. So we’ve been meeting with just local landowners and farmers who are potentially going to be impacted by these projects. And I think on the one hand there’s a view that, well, okay, they understand the need to reduce emissions and that’s a government policy, but there’s a concern, like I said earlier on, about a lack of consultation. It feels as if these renewable energy companies are trying to pick off farmers or landowners one by one. And so that can quite often cause a neighbour to turn against neighbour. And that’s been a real issue because as you know, particularly in regional communities, the solidarity and the sense of togetherness is absolutely critical to those communities thriving.

So there’s a concern about what that will mean for the future of these communities. And I think the other point that’s important to make is there’s often a feeling and a concern that these issues aren’t really being properly considered by city-based politicians. They may have good intentions, but they don’t always get out to the country areas, which is one of the reasons we’re here is just to learn and listen and to understand.

Stephanie Nitschke:

We’re speaking with Daniel Wild, he’s deputy executive director at Institute of Public Affairs, going around doing a tour of the regions to talk about renewable energy in the future and how much agricultural farming land will be impacted by that. And what will you do with the data and the information you get from this tour?

Daniel Wild:

Look, there’s a couple of things. Firstly, we use it to inform our analysis of the potential impact of these policies. And secondly, one of the key things that we do is provide submissions and information to government inquiries and processes. So there’s a lot of those that are underway at the moment. So this all feeds into that. We have the headline data that we’ve talked about, the one-third of farmland that could be taken up by renewable infrastructure, but then it’s also getting a more detailed understanding on the ground of what’s happening to make sure that policy makers actually have this information. And I’d really encourage policy makers and particularly city-based politicians to come out to the Riverland and talk to locals just to get a better understanding of what’s happening.

Stephanie Nitschke:

Yeah, okay. And if people wanted to be part of the conversation or find out more information, what can they do, Daniel?

Daniel Wild:

Well look, the best thing that they can do to understand what we’re up to is head to our website, which is ipa.org.au, and you’ll find out information about this tour and the other tours we’re doing. The other thing is, I’d really encourage people to just participate in the normal democratic process, to do it in a civil and respectful way. But if you have particular views that you want heard, then you do need to contact your local member of Parliament or your community leaders, dial into radio stations like this and have a chat and just make sure that your voice is being heard, because we know that often there’s a very vocal group of people from the cities, sometimes that drowns out the regional voices. So I encourage people to participate and just make sure that your perspective’s being heard.

Stephanie Nitschke:

Okay. Daniel, we really appreciate your time.

Daniel Wild:

My pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

This transcript from ABC Breakfast Riverland with Stephanie Nitschke from 12 December 2023 has been edited for clarity.

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