What Is a Churchill Fellowship?

Awarded by the Winston Churchill Trust, a Churchill Fellowship offers Australian citizens a life-changing opportunity to travel overseas for four to eight weeks to learn more about a topic or issue that they are passionate about. Applicants are empowered to design their own projects to explore international best practice and innovation that can be applied in Australia. Air travel, in-country transportation, accommodation and living expenses are included in a Churchill Fellowship. The next round of applications open on 1 March 2024. If you’re interested in learning more, or applying (which I encourage you to do!), visit the Become a Fellow webpage.

About my Churchill Fellowship Research

My project is to research the impact of large-scale renewable & low-carbon energy projects on regional communities.

This work will study the impacts of the construction and operation of large-scale renewable and low-carbon energy projects. It will focus on regional communities where this emerging industry can be a key economic driver, but also a potential source of land use and population conflicts, in typically agricultural areas with relatively small populations.

It will also explore social licence implications for industry and government, and the opportunities this energy transition brings. Learning from the experience of regions overseas that have undergone this development, it will examine wind and solar power, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration projects – all of which are planned in regional WA. Whilst my day job is with the WA Government, and I intend to apply my findings in this context, I’m undertaking this research as a private citizen.

The underlying premise of my work is:

  • There is a concerted (and justifiable) move for the development of large-scale renewable and low-carbon energy projects in regional Australia. My home region of Western Australia’s Mid West, is home to significant renewable (wind and solar) resources, as well as an existing conventional oil/gas industry and emerging hydrogen/ammonia and CCUS sectors.
    • The scale of what is being proposed is quite new for Australia (projects at gigawatt scale and beyond).
    • Broadly, much of the infrastructure required for the transition will be built in, and impact disproportionately upon (positively and negatively) our regional and rural communities.
  • Most of the discussions taking place at present relate to the siting of projects and associated land considerations (which are important – but only part of the picture).
    • There is less discourse around the longer-term impact of these projects on the regional/rural communities that host them over time, particularly as they move from construction into sustained operation, and ultimately into renewal/shutdown as well.
    • In my role as CEO of a regional development agency, this piece is of great interest, as we want to have the right settings in place to maximise the local/regional benefit of these projects and avoid/manage the negative impacts of this change, where practicable.
    • This includes both the social licence aspect, but also the broader management of socioeconomic change resulting from these projects.
  • As Australia hasn’t experienced this at scale, I’m looking at international examples.
    • I will be looking at research, policy, industry and community impacts from places that have had a longer-term relationship with larger-scale renewables/low-carbon energy projects.
    • I want to examine what good/best practice looks like? Where are some cautionary tales to learn from?
    • I intend to collate/develop resources for community, government and, potentially, industry to help manage this transition more smoothly.
    • As part of the Churchill Fellowship, I am also required to prepare a report detailing my research (which will be publicly shared).

Broadly, I’m interested in talking to:

  • Research community; so that I have some data and rigor behind the work, and so I can build on/incorporate the existing research.
  • Government; to consider the role of policy and what good/bad policy might look like, or identify unintended consequences.
  • Energy Sector;  to understand their perspective, the role of policy and social licence as well as practical project development/operation considerations.
  • Other Industry; particularly industry impacted/displaced/bolstered by the emergence of the energy industry – e.g. agriculture, fishing, manufacturing.
  • Community, including local government, local business and local residents; what have the physical and socioeconomic changes been, and what has this meant for them? How has social licence been achieved (or not)?
The types of questions I plan to ask are:

To Project Developers/Renewable Energy Industry Proponents:

  • What are/were your key challenges to establishing new projects?
  • How do/did you address project social licence, particularly in regional/rural areas?
  • How has government policy (at local, regional and national level) impacted you (both positively and negatively)?
  • How do you ensure you have a suitably skilled workforce for your projects?
  • How do you manage your supply chain to ensure that you can get the materials/components that you require?
  • Do you have any projects that I can visit?
  • If you have older projects, how are you managing their renewal/decommissioning?
  • Beyond the basic resource (the solar or wind capacity), what are the key things you look for in selecting/developing a project site?

To Government Agencies (particularly at a Regional/State/National level):

  • How have you used policy to manage the development of the renewable energy sector?
  • How have you sought to balance economic, social and environmental outcomes?
    • What has worked, what has not?
    • What would you do differently if you could go back and start again?
  • How have you helped to foster social licence for the energy transition, and the projects which support it?
  • How have you managed the delivery of additional electricity transmission infrastructure?
    • What lessons have you learned?
  • How have the various tiers of government worked together to support the energy transition?
  • What challenges have you experienced when working industry, and how have you tried (successfully or unsuccessfully) to overcome these?
  • How have you helped to ensure that you have been developing the workforce and supporting the supply chains to enable the energy transition?

To Local Governments/Local Community Groups/Local Businesses:

  • What has the energy transition, and development of large renewable energy projects meant for you/your community (both positive and negative)?
  • What changes have you seen in your communities/local economies as these projects have been developed?
  • Have you experienced the benefits that you expected, or were promised?
    • If not, do you know why?
  • What have the key social licence issues been for you?
  • How have you worked with government and/or industry to try to address these?
  • What strategies have been successful/unsuccessful (and why)?
  • Has there been strong local support, or opposition?
    • Why?
  • What have been the key lessons that you’ve learned? What would you do differently if you had your time over again?

To other Industry Bodies:

  • How has the renewable energy sector’s growth impacted you? (Positively and negatively)
  • What has this meant for your workforces?
  • (Agriculture & Fishing:) Are there good examples of co-existence?
  • How has government policy supported/hindered this?
  • (Manufacturing:) What opportunities have been created?
  • How has government policy supported/hindered this?

To Academics and Researchers:

  • What are some of the key lessons from this country’s/region’s energy transition, particularly in regional/rural areas?
  • Can you point to some key government policy successes and failures?
  • Examples of communities/regions that have harnessed the transition effectively and poorly (and why that is)?
  • How have Government and Industry successfully/unsuccessfully addressed the need for social licence for the transition and individual projects?
  • Can you give examples of where this has been done particularly well or poorly

I am keen to meet people and undertake site visits as part of my travel as much as possible, but given time (and potentially geographical) limitations, I am also expecting to meet virtually with a range of people and organisations prior to and following my travel. If this is of interest to you, or you’d be open to providing information or introductions, I’d love for you to contact me.

Planned Travel Schedule
6 April – 16 April 2024California (Los Angeles, Rosamond, Tehachapi, Bakersfield, Sacramento, San Francisco)Onshore wind, solar, hydrogen
17 April – 23 April 2024Texas (Austin, Houston)CCUS
24 April – 5 May 2024Scotland (Aberdeen, Glasgow/South Lanarkshire)Onshore and offshore wind
6 May – 11 May 2024England (London)Onshore and offshore wind
12 May – 18 May 2024Netherlands (Rotterdam)Hydrogen, wind
19 May – 31 May 2024Spain (Madrid, Extremadura, Navarre, Aragon)Solar, wind