Original Power: Recommendation
Original Power (OP) is working to ensure Australia’s First Nations communities benefit from the renewables boom. It uses a collective-action model to resource and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to self-determine what happens on their country. This work is critical because, as Australia’s traditional owners, First Nations people have unique rights over 50 per cent of Australia’s land, making them critical stakeholders in the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one powered by clean, renewable energy. OP supports communities in their efforts to protect cultural heritage, challenge fossil fuel developments (if this is what communities decide), and create a just transition to renewables. OP’s work can support the rapid roll out of large-scale renewables as an alternative to fossil fuel projects, in turn reducing Australia’s emissions.
This diagram illustrates OP’s theory of change:
Based on OP’s achievements, strategic approach, and the impact that additional funding would have, we recommend it as one of our top organisations for accelerating climate policy and reducing Australia’s emissions. For more information on OP, please review our Deep Dive of the organisation.
Why we recommend Original Power
The Giving Green Australia: 2021 Research Process details how we identified the highest impact organisations working to improve climate policy in Australia. The process involved expert interviews, an expert survey, focus groups, and desk research. We focused on organisations that are using the three key approaches our research determined are the highest priority for delivering policy change: ‘insider advocacy’, ‘outsider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’. OP seeks policy change through ‘outsider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’. Furthermore, OP was nominated 9 times by the 52 experts surveyed, which was the fourth highest number of votes any organisation received. OP would also likely deliver substantial returns from additional marginal investment.
In our assessment of OP’s impact, we spoke with representatives from OP and interviewed a number of climate policy and advocacy experts and practitioners. We also reviewed publicly available information on OP, including its website and reports, as well as media coverage of the organisation.
Here, we present our reasons for recommending OP. We also recommend that those interested read our Deep Dive report.
1. Original Power is helping to reduce Australia’s emissions by paving the way for renewables as a superior alternative to fossil fuels in providing jobs, economic opportunities and energy security for First Nations communities.
The rapid deployment of renewable energy is critical to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. While Australia is currently the world’s third largest exporter of fossil fuels (and number one for coal and gas), the nation could become a major global exporter of renewable energy. Australia has some of the best renewable resources in the world, many of which are on First Nations’ lands and waters. Already, the Sun Cable project is seeking to export Australian solar power to Singapore via a deep sea cable, and the development of hydrogen technologies would enable large amounts of renewable energy to be exported.
However, regulation surrounding the development of Australia’s clean energy industry has inadequacies. There is little to no formal guidance on agreement-making with Australia’s First Nations people and significant barriers to ensuring equitable access to the benefits of clean energy. In the absence of government policy, OP is taking the lead.
OP is a founding partner of the recently launched First Nations Clean Energy Network. The Network promotes best-practice standards in the renewable energy industry, to ensure that the transition occurs in partnership with First Nations communities, sharing its jobs and economic benefits, protecting sacred sites and respecting native title. The Network has endorsement from First Nations people, community organisations and land councils, technical and legal advisers, impact investors, clean energy industry bodies, trade unions, academia, think tanks, and major climate advocacy organisations. This breadth of support reflects a recognition that First Nations people should and can benefit from the renewables boom. As the clean energy industry expands, the Network recognises that it is important that First Nations people are empowered to make decisions which determine their future and protect their country and culture.
OP is working to bring the economic benefits of renewable energy to indigenous communities. Many First Nations communities in remote parts of Australia rely on diesel generation for their energy needs, and are suffering due to high diesel prices and frequent power disconnections. Supporting these communities to develop their own renewable energy projects not only addresses energy security, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves health outcomes and creates employment opportunities. Clean, reliable energy will help First Nations communities deal with more extreme temperatures brought by climate change. OP has supported communities to develop demonstration community solar projects in Marlinja and Borroloola in the Northern Territory. It has developed a Clean Energy Economic Recovery Plan for the Northern Territory, which promotes a clean energy ‘superhighway’ through the centre of Australia via a high-speed electricity transmission line. OP worked with the Australian National University to develop a guide on Clean Energy agreement making on First Nations Land. The First Nations Clean Energy Network will advise First Nations communities and business enterprises seeking to set up or play a part in the establishment of medium- to large-scale export-focussed clean energy projects.
2. Original Power is supporting First Nations communities to exercise their rights to self-determine what happens on their country.
OP provides support for First Nations communities to self-determine their own futures in the economic transition from fossil fuels to renewable power. It builds the capacity of First Nations communities who wish to protect their cultural heritage, challenge destructive fossil fuel projects, and ensure that renewable projects are developed in a way that provides just economic co-benefits to the community.
As Australia’s traditional custodians, First Nations people hold special rights known as ‘native title’ over more than half of the continent. However, due to complex social and economic pressures, these rights are difficult to exert. Native title does not extinguish other land rights, such as mining rights, and usually falls short of the power to veto developments. Indigenous communities need to be able to scrutinise and manage proposed projects to ensure no damage will be done to their country or culture.
OP is developing resources such as the Building Power Guide to provide First Nations communities with the knowledge, support and networks they need to protect their communities, land, water, and climate. It has been a key driver of the Passing the Message Stick Project, a two-year research initiative to find messages that are effective in building public support for First Nations self-determination and justice. OP is also connecting communities with each other and supporting the exchange of lessons, challenges and successes.
3. Original Power has a strong team with connections to First Nations communities and clean energy industry leaders and policy makers.
OP’s CEO, board and staff includes highly regarded professionals from First Nations communities. They have expertise in community-building, economic development, climate change, clean energy, management consulting, and native title. The team has strong engagement with First Nations leaders and communities. Through the First Nations Clean Energy Network, OP has built a coalition with the renewables industry, investors, technical experts, campaigners and policy makers.
Original Power’s Clean Energy Economic Recovery Plan for the Northern Territory is a rapid response report prepared for the Northern Territory Government’s Economic Reconstruction Commission in 2020 that demonstrates the potential for First Nations community-owned clean energy to lead the regions out of the COVID-19 economic crisis through the creation of sustainable jobs on country. The proposed plan was adopted by the NT Government as a key recommendation of the Economic Reconstruction Commission. The model is also being considered by Indigenous communities developing solar grids in Central Australia, the Barkley and Gulf regions.
OP has proven it can support First Nations communities to self-determine what projects proceed on their land, and to create new industry networks that put First Nations people at the table as the renewables boom gets underway.
4. Additional marginal investment could help Original Power ensure First Nations people benefit from the renewable energy revolution, drive community-owned clean energy projects and secure equitable arrangements for large-scale renewable projects on their lands.
OP is a small First Nations organisation working effectively with limited resources. Their budget for 2020-2021 was $1.2 million, the majority of which was from individual donations, trusts and foundations.
Additional funding could help OP expand its on-country community engagement program, evaluate the community and climate impacts of clean energy demonstration projects, and further scale the work of the First Nations Clean Energy Network (the Network will be auspiced by OP for the first 12 months).
OP’s priorities for 2022 focus on community, industry partnerships and policy reform so the First Nations Clean Energy Network can: support community-owned renewable projects to deliver lower-cost, reliable energy; create job opportunities and strong economies so First Nations people can live and work on their country; and form strong industry partnerships to share the benefits of a renewable future and avoid the mistakes of extractive industries.
There are three key risks associated with OP achieving its aims. First, that federal and state governments remain intransigent and fail to reform laws and regulations which currently frustrate securing a just, equitable and rapid transition to renewables. Second, that the clean energy industry does not sufficiently engage with or prioritise the interests of First Nations people as the renewables boom gets underway. Third, that First Nations communities, because of the actions of the fossil fuel industry which works to maximise profits at the expense of First Nations people, and because of a lack of alternate economic and job opportunities, have no real choice but to allow coal and gas development, or risk losing country and culture without any compensation. However, much of OP’s program is about mitigating these risks. By pursuing just economic and employment benefits for First Nations people from renewables, OP is building the social licence and political capital needed for a rapid and just transition to renewable energy within First Nations communities, the clean energy industry and policy makers.
As a small organisation, OP carries personnel risks. Its ongoing effectiveness relies on retaining and attracting talent at all levels of the organisation. There can be challenges from building and managing a team of very diverse people and skills, working in communities where there may be no computers and limited internet access. To mitigate these risks, OP has recently brought on more staff and is implementing a peer-to-peer mentoring program to up-skill and support its team. OP is also offering additional support for remote staff, including helping the whole team develop systems that better acknowledge the diversity of language and literacy skills. This will be important as the organisation grows and works to expand its efforts across the country.
We believe that OP is making a significant contribution to ensuring Australia’s First Nations communities benefit from the renewables boom. Increasing First Nations communities’ access to clean, reliable energy will help them deal with more extreme temperatures brought by climate change. Securing equitable arrangements for medium- to large-scale renewable projects on First Nations land will provide an alternative to new, polluting coal and gas projects. Additional donations would enable OP to align the interests of First Nations people and the clean energy industry, making possible the mass deployment of renewables in a way that benefits First Nations communities. Based on OP’s achievements, strategic approach, and the impact that additional funding would have, we recommend it as one of our top organisations for improving climate policy in Australia.