By Terry Chapman, APA General Manager, Project Delivery

The development of renewable energy infrastructure alone is an enormous task, made all the more challenging by labour and supply chain shortages, planning delays and community pushback. Here, APA General Manager, Terry Chapman, shares some insight into how governments can tackle these challenges and fast-track the delivery of renewable energy zones.

The withdrawal of coal from our energy system and the concurrent build-out of renewable energy zones (REZs) across the country is a monumental undertaking. Australia currently generates approximately 35 per cent of its power from renewables and this journey has taken the best part of two decades.

If the Federal Government is to meet its target of 82 per cent renewables by 2030, we need to deliver in six years more than one and a half times what has been delivered in the last 20. And we are facing this challenge against a backdrop of significant global competition for skilled labour and critical minerals, along with rising costs, environmental concerns, planning delays and increased community focus on the impacts of these major projects.

As a proudly Australian-owned and listed energy infrastructure business, APA sees several opportunities for governments to address these issues and accelerate the delivery of infrastructure for REZs.

Streamlining project approval
First, the process of selecting a preferred consortium to deliver these projects could be simplified. The rising cost of capital and a tight domestic employment market means governments can’t afford to have multiple organisations tied up in a tender process for up to 12 months before work commences.

At present, there is more work to do than resources to deliver it. While commercial processes need to remain transparent and competitive, contractual frameworks need to pivot to address current market constraints and to ensure projects can move

Head shot ofBy Terry Chapman, APA General Manager, Project Delivery

Terry Chapman, APA General Manager, Project Delivery. Image: APA Group

to delivery sooner.

Upskilling the workforce
Second, we must continue to build technical skills and capabilities in the domestic market. Australia is currently in deficit when it comes to the skilled labour capacity required to deliver high voltage substation and transmission line projects at the scale required. And these challenges are more acute given skills and resources will be needed in regional areas.

Upskilling the existing workforce from adjacent infrastructure projects is one opportunity. We must also accelerate investment in apprenticeship
programs to develop a pipeline of the right trades. Federal Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor recently noted the slow uptake of spaces in the New Energy Apprenticeships Program launched in 2023. The Federal Government needs to balance attracting more young Australians into the energy sector with the opportunity for skilled migration to help us fill the gaps.

Global partnerships also have a role to play. International know-how and best practice needs to be linked with Australian organisations to deliver this huge program of work.

For example, APA has partnered with leading global energy infrastructure organisation EDF Group to leverage their leading global experience in electricity transmission infrastructure delivery with APA’s strong local experience in the construction and operation of critical energy infrastructure. This will ensure we are well positioned to deliver emerging projects in what is a highly competitive environment.

Building an extensive supply chain network
Third, we must look to our past to help secure our future. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have all delivered major transport and infrastructure projects over the last decade that have created a valuable skills legacy and extensive supply chain network.

I was proud to be the Project Director of Australia’s largest ever road infrastructure project – the recently completed WestConnex in New South Wales. The scale and complexity of WestConnex has accelerated the experience of a large cohort of contract administrators, commercial analysts, planners and community engagement specialists. The project has also built significant expertise in engineering and design, construction management, commissioning and operation along with skills in critical trades.

We must now move quickly to attract these people to the energy sector, with many of the skills needed for electricity transmission projects being transferrable.

We must also leverage the learnings around community engagement from these mega transport projects. While the infrastructure might be different, the reality is the issues faced are much the same. The significant landholder and community opposition to REZs is not unlike that faced during the delivery of WestConnex. It wasn’t so long ago that this project was subject to community protests and local councils preventing road access and refusing to grant construction permits.

But with a clear process for engagement and ongoing efforts to listen and build community trust, the infrastructure was delivered responsibly.

At APA, as we consider future REZ projects, we are already thinking about how we can best engage with the community, how we can minimise impact, and importantly, what legacy we can leave. Governments and successful consortia must clearly communicate these short and long-term benefits. Employment and skills development, investment in regional businesses, positive engagement with communities are just some examples.

That’s not to say these challenges will be easy to overcome. However, thinking innovatively and leveraging the significant knowledge and expertise across the infrastructure sector will give us a great chance of meeting our renewable energy targets.

Featured image: APA Group

©2024 Utility Magazine. All rights reserved


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?