The First Nations Yindjibarndi people have partnered with Filipino-listed renewables company ACEN to develop and operate clean energy projects in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.
The partnership is one of Australia’s largest renewable energy initiatives led by First Nations peoples. It ensures the Yindjibarndi people will approve all proposed project sites on Yindjibarndi Ngurra (country).
The joint venture saw ACEN and the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation form the Yindjibarndi Energy Corporation (YEC). This secures equity shares for Traditional Owners of between 25% to 50% in all completed projects. The deal also establishes preferred contracting for Yindjibarndi-owned businesses, and training and employment opportunities for their peoples.
A$1b investment to decarbonise the Pilbara region
Yindjibarndi country is well suited to renewable energy production. Being in the centre of the Pilbara region means it is outside the Category D cyclone zone, elevated, and close to existing transmission infrastructure. The Pilbara region is also home to large industrial energy users that are looking to decarbonise production.
YEC’s initial goal is to start constructing 750 MW of combined wind, solar and battery storage over the next few years. ACEN is committing more than A$1 billion to this work. The energy produced will be for domestic and export markets. In October 2023, YEC signed a memorandum of understanding with Rio Tinto to explore collaboration opportunities on renewable energy projects in the region.
Shared values underpin partnership
‘This partnership between ACEN and the Yindjibarndi People was built on shared values,’ says Yindjibarndi Energy Corporation CEO Craig Ricato.
Climate change is a key concern for the Yindjibarndi people. They recognise the potential for renewables to mitigate global warming, and bring economic benefits to their community. This led the Yindjibarndi people to look for investors to develop clean energy projects on their lands.
‘ACEN were genuine in their interactions with the Yinjibarndi people,’ says Ricato. ‘They were honest about their intentions and listened to what the Traditional Owners needed.’
In contrast with other potential investors, Ricato says ACEN’s representatives showed they understood energy projects have a multigenerational impact. The company was committed to forming a long-term partnership that would bring benefits to both the land and community.
‘This made the Yindjibarndi comfortable around ACEN’s people and put them in good standing to negotiate the terms of the partnership agreement,’ explains Ricato.
This early consultation in the investment process allowed opportunities for shared input. It saw the Yindjibarndi people shape and secure equity in the projects and supply chain access.
Providing First Nations groups a seat at the table
ACEN believes the YEC collaboration model is pushing the boundaries of traditional industry thinking, and pioneering the way renewable energy projects can meet modern energy needs.
When engaging with Traditional Owners, ACEN is committed to forming long-term meaningful partnerships that provide opportunities for input, equity and ownership over projects.
‘These projects will have a generational impact,’ adds Patrice Clausse, ACEN International CEO.
‘So, it’s about forming a partnership where the Traditional Owners have a seat at the table, can put their own equity into the projects and have a real ownership.’
ACEN’s partnership with the Yindjibarndi is not its first with First Nations groups on energy projects in Australia.
In March 2023, the renewable energy firm launched the first stage of its New England solar project, located in New South Wales. As part of this project, ACEN has partnered with the local Anaiwan people to ensure culturally significant areas located on the project site are protected for future generations.
ACEN introduced Yindjibarndi elders to the Anaiwan people to discuss experiences in the New England solar farm project. This engagement further helped assure the Yindjibarndi people that ACEN was committed to the long-term benefits a partnership could bring.
‘Our partnerships with First Nations groups are guided by how they would like to participate. We have regular forums to talk with them about opportunities for further engagement, and to raise any concerns they might have,’ adds Joey Chalk, ACEN’s First Nations Engagement Lead in Australia.
Partners to net zero
Australia aims to become a renewable energy superpower. This strategic national goal creates significant clean energy investment opportunities for companies such as ACEN.
‘In 2018, we saw Australia was already on a path to decarbonisation with the transition of coal plants. We saw a huge opportunity here,’ says Clausse.
ACEN has established a subsidiary in Australia. It is the developer behind some of Australia’s biggest solar, wind and hydrogen projects today, including in New South Wales and Tasmania.
Austrade supports net zero investors
Austrade investment advisors in the Philippines and Australia are supporting ACEN with market information and opportunities.
‘Austrade is helping us keep up to date with developments in Australia’s growing renewable energy sector, and sharing information on investment opportunities,’ says Clausse.
‘They are also pivotal in helping us connect with government representatives at federal and state levels.’
Austrade has also helped ACEN with visa information and connected the team in Australia with workforce talent and government representatives at the federal and state levels.
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Published: 22 January 2024