A clean energy partnership that breaks tradition

It’s a long way from the halls of power in Canberra to the vastness of Western Australia’s East Kimberley. But as Australia makes good on its potential of becoming a renewable energy and hydrogen superpower, these locations will be instrumental in getting there.

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Such places are often covered by Native Title and stewarded by Traditional Owners. A 2022 study from a coalition of universities and experts known as Net Zero Australia found the nation would need to triple the National Electricity Market’s power capacity by 2030 to be on track for net zero by 2050 – requiring a massive rollout of renewables and storage.

“The people who own and steward these lands should be shareholders in development and be involved when decisions about the project infrastructure are being made.”

It also found that 48 per cent of the renewables required for Australia to reach net zero would need to be located on land subject to Native Title. Globally, it’s a similar story. Indigenous people steward 80 per cent of remaining biodiversity and 54 per cent of transition minerals lie on Indigenous land. There is no credible path to net zero that does not run through their Country.

As Australia undergoes a national debate about an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament, similar ideas around what represents meaningful inclusion and recognition are playing out in the renewable energy industry – which is vital for delivering on Australia’s net zero commitments and the necessary transition to a decarbonised economy.

A landmark new partnership and project, announced recently, shows how things can and should be done in this rapidly emerging environment.

Specialist climate change investment and advisory firm Pollination joined forces with three Traditional Owner groups in the East Kimberley region to develop and manage a new green hydrogen and ammonia export hub. The project will be the only 100 per cent renewable example of its kind in Australia and will play an important role in decarbonising agriculture and food supply both locally and in key global markets.

Kimberley Land Council, MG Corporation and Balanggarra Ventures will each own one quarter of a new company – the Aboriginal Clean Energy Partnership – with Pollination holding the remaining 25 per cent. This new company will lead the development and delivery of the East Kimberley Clean Energy Project, a pioneering idea which captures the comparative and competitive advantages of the region.

Once the project is complete, fresh water will be drawn from an abundant source at Lake Argyle. It will be converted to green hydrogen by electrolysis powered by a solar farm that -- at a capacity of 950 megawatts – is larger than any currently existing in Australia.


A pipeline will be constructed to carry hydrogen from Kununurra to the coast at Wyndham. There, a plant powered by an existing hydro facility will create green ammonia (fertiliser), which can be used by local farmers as well as being exported from the nearby port to trading partners across Asia and beyond.

This project will play a critical role in helping to decarbonise agriculture and food production across our region -- important work in the global race towards net zero. But its impact does not end there.   

At its heart, the project is based on a simple idea: the people who own and steward these lands should be shareholders in development and be involved when decisions about the project infrastructure are being made.

They should have opportunity to partake in the economic activity that follows and such activity should be aligned with their own traditions and views about caring for country and living in balance with nature.

“The clean energy movement is aligned to Traditional Owners’ values and core responsibility to be looking after country,” says Kimberley Land Council Chief Executive Officer Tyronne Garstone.

Hearing this idea expressed in this way it seems so obvious as to be almost unnecessary to declare. And yet this is not how such large-scale developments have historically been undertaken.

The Aboriginal Clean Energy Partnership is different by design. All three Indigenous organisations are equal equity partners and together they will be majority shareholders. They will be empowered to contribute expertise and knowledge about their country, creating a significant advantage across the project development processes. Particularly for environmental, heritage, ethnographic and other approvals.

Benefit sharing

Having Traditional Owners as shareholders, not just stakeholders, will significantly de-risk the project as it establishes feasibility and moves through its development milestones —speeding up the process and allowing green ammonia production to potentially begin as early as the end of 2028.

For local communities it also offers a chance to have a seat at the table when determining how benefit sharing will work. Aside from the commercial returns of a project there will be important job creation and capability building opportunities.

The partnership will ensure these are not just short term and unskilled jobs normally created by large construction projects, but the skilled and future-focused positions and ancillary businesses required to deliver the project and operate it over time.

Training and skills development will be required to deliver the workforce required and project partners will be perfectly placed to build capability within their communities. So their own people can take advantage of opportunities as they unfold.

“If we can get this right, this could be a model that’s replicated across Australia or probably even the world, working with Aboriginal people,” says Lawford Benning, Chair of project partner MG Corporation.

“We want to create an autonomy,” says Kimberley Land Council Chair Anthony Watson. “It’s part of our trading history with our lore and culture.”

Most gratifying has been the excitement created by this idea. At the launch event in July at the Australian Clean Energy Summit, so many people tried to attend the session that delegates were turned away.

Media across Australia and the world discussed the project and its unique character. Indigenous groups in Canada and beyond have shared the project details and asked themselves “Why can’t we do this here?”

The World Economic Forum published a video to its 28 million social media followers and, just weeks after being launched, the partnership has won the Energy Innovation of the Year Award at the Australian Institute of Energy Western Australia’s Energy Week Awards.

The award category for this partnership is an instructive one: Best Innovation. When we think of innovation in the renewable energy sector it is usually related to a technological shift. The Aboriginal Clean Energy Partnership shows not all innovations are born from a laboratory.

In this case what is revolutionary is an idea that is so timely and simple it has the potential to spread around Australia and beyond its shores.

“It’s about working together and looking at what works for us,” says Balanggarra Ventures CEO Cissy Gore-Birch. “To be able to bring those valued partnerships to support our vision.”

Rob Grant is General Manager and Head of Projects at Pollination

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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