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Communities divided over renewable energy development

A 12-month study of community opinions on the renewable energy rollout points to a divided nation as battle lines are drawn for another climate election.



Older people may have doubts as the renewable energy rollout gathers pace, but polling shows most Australians favour the climate benefits and lower electricity prices ahead of any development impact.


A study released on Monday found Labor voters were more likely than others to say the biggest benefit will be new jobs and skills (18 per cent), while coalition voters pointed to cheap power bills (20 per cent).


Greens voters were most likely to say reducing climate change (34 per cent) and green exports (22 per cent) would be the biggest economic benefit for Australians from switching off coal and gas and favouring renewable electricity.

Queensland's Western Downs Green Power Hub solar farm is an example of the future supply of energy.


The study, conducted by Essential Research, also found developers must involve communities in decisions to retain their support.


Two years after many Australians voted for a change of government over climate and energy policy, they blame the government for failing to provide the necessary leadership to ensure the transformation is successful.


And as international energy giants circle the nation to build new assets, younger voters also want more effort by the government to keep ownership - and future profits - of renewable energy projects in Australian hands.


Overall, the 12-month study commissioned by local renewables company Zen Energy found a majority (57 per cent) believe the main benefits of the transition will be meaningful action on climate change, lower energy bills and new career opportunities.


The main concern for over a quarter (27 per cent) was the visual impact of development, but the number one concern about wind and solar farms, big batteries and transmission wires was the impact on the environment, including wildlife (61 per cent).


Almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of those aged 18-34 years said meeting national commitments to cutting climate emissions and transitioning to renewable energy should be prioritised over local community concerns about project development.


But more than half (52 per cent) of people aged 55 years and older said local community concerns should be prioritised.


People were vulnerable to negative messaging, particularly in regional areas where the greatest benefits of the transition would occur, the study found.


Zen chief executive Anthony Garnaut said the findings reinforced the challenges the projects are having and highlighted the need for leadership from industry and government to earn a "social licence".


"We encourage all developers to engage early, involve people in decision-making and co-design of projects," he said.


The research did not include opinions on nuclear energy, which the coalition believes is a winner for the election due by 2025.

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