The AGL Broken Hill solar plant was opened only last year. But, already, the idea of solar power is so entwined in the frontier town’s identity that enthusiastic locals are making art and writing poetry about electricity generated by the sun.
An exhibition titled Desert Equinox – Solar Art Prize, Broken Hill was recently held in the town and featured art and poetry inspired by the 53MW solar plant.
So how did the project’s proponent, electricity utility AGL Energy Limited (AGL), succeed in ensuring the Broken Hill community embraced solar power with open arms? Helena Orel is AGL’s Community Stakeholder Engagement Manager and provides many of the answers to this question.
Locals have referred to her as their “adopted daughter”. Orel has spent countless hours in the community, spreading her passion about the benefits of comprehensive community engagement.
Just under 1000km North East of Broken Hill, on the other side of NSW, the townsfolk of Moree will tell you a similar story about their recently-completed solar farm, built by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV).
“The developers (of Moree Solar Farm) had a beautiful openness” says Moree Mayor Katrina Humphries.” They would walk through the town and just mooch and mingle, they were very relaxed and very honest”.
The Moree and Broken Hill solar farms (as well as Broken Hill’s ‘twin’ farm at nearby Nyngan) have been supported by ARENA grant funding. As part of this, ARENA projects undergo knowledge sharing activities, including information gleaned from the experiences around community engagement.
You can read AGL’s knowledge sharing report on community engagement here. It provides a clear blueprint for the large scale projects that will follow Broken Hill, imparting real, practical learnings gleaned by AGL about how to earn and maintain the trust of a local community. These key lessons include maintaining open channels of contact with the community, ensuring that plenty of interpersonal contact occurs, and empowering and involving local businesses and individuals with the project.
ARENA’s focus on encouraging this kind of knowledge-sharing shows its involvement in ground-breaking large-scale solar farms isn’t just financial. Collecting and sharing the experiences of solar pioneers is a vital part of the growth of clean energy in Australia.
Katrina Humphries embodies that knowledge about the importance of community engagement and, just like the project proponents and ARENA, is more than happy to spread the word.
“They (FRV) got to know the neighbours of the solar farm,” says Humphries. “Personal contact counts for a lot more than a sausage sizzle. Our community loves the solar farm because it’s practical and sensible, and it’s not bloody rocket science”.