When you live at the end of an electricity line, power is expensive. Remote communities have some of the highest electricity prices in the country, and along with other factors contributing to entrenched disadvantage, Australia’s Indigenous communities are among those most affected.
In a bold effort to stem this trend, Aboriginal elders throughout the country have come together to form the First Nations Energy Alliance, which aims to combat high power costs and climate change, by promoting renewable energy in Indigenous communities.
The alliance will take a two-pronged approach: supporting Indigenous communities wishing to transition to renewable energy by partnering with businesses and other energy alliances, as well as lobbying government to secure a viable energy future for remote communities.
The move is a stride forward toward self-sufficiency for Indigenous people.
In the absence of alternative energy sources, many communities rely on expensive, emissions-intensive diesel-powered generators to meet their energy needs. Michael Anderson, one of the elders heading the alliance, spoke to the Guardian about the need for action, “These are not happy places…It’s a real problem and we need to make sure that we fix this.”
360 Energy Group is a renewable energy company keen to help get the alliance off the ground. It has offered $10,000 in funding, as well as office space and expertise. Director Michael Anthony expresses his confidence in renewable energy powering Indigenous communities, no matter how remote they are.
“We can build a power station where the community exists,” Anthony states, “so people are able to successfully live in the environment the way they want to live and have access to power which enables them to better determine their economic future.”
Indigenous communities are not strangers to renewable energy projects. In May 2016, Aboriginal residents who abandoned their homelands due to the exorbitant cost of electricity returned when solar panels and battery storage systems replaced the community’s diesel generators. This initiative was enacted by the Indigenous-owned and –operated AllGrid Energy company. The Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara communities in the Northern Territory saw their populations grow from just two permanent residents to about 40 following the solar installation.
In Canada, First Nations communities have been pushing for renewable energy for several years. Indigenous people in the province of Alberta have been the victims of not only high power prices, but oil spills from the vast oil sands nearby. A 20.8kW solar installation, built and operated by locals, now powers a community health centre.
As the First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance chooses a community to begin the transition to renewables, Anderson is hopeful for the future of his country and people. “Our experience is that if we can make it work for one community, it will work in every other community,” he says.
- Consider converting to solar power. Proven to cut power costs and a brilliant altenative to fossil fuels, it is fast becoming the future of electricity in Australia and around the world. Check out Planet Ark Power for more information
- Support others, like remote community groups, who are transitioning to renewable energy, by divesting from big energy companies and the banks that support them
- Consider ways you can cut down on energy waste and the cost of your power bill by remembering to switch off lights, turn off heating/cooling when not needed, and spending more time outdoors.