Last week, the NT Government clinched an agreement to advance development of a 12,000 hectare solar farm and battery storage facility set to power Katherine, Darwin and up to 20 per cent of Singapore's electricity supply.
The project - backed by billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest - has been hailed as monumental move, shifting reliance from fossil fuels - which generate planet-warming emissions.
But the NT Government still has a strong hold on accelerating the oil and gas industry, and concerns have been raised over how the project will impact the environment and whether it will benefit Territorians.
Shar Molloy director of the Environment Centre NT, says as the impacts of climate change become acute in the Territory, it is more important than ever to decarbonise industries and reduce carbon emissions.
"Any project of this scale will have impacts on the environment, some of them significant," she said.
"This is an opportunity for Sun Cable to lead the Northern Territory out of its previous poor reputation with respect to its handling of environmental assessment and management of major projects."
She said concerns have been raised over the NT Government's historical track record, and she fears the project will end up another "extractive project in the Northern Territory that delivers benefits elsewhere".
Pitched as the world's largest solar farm, construction of the $22 billion Sun Cable venture is expected to start in October 2023.
Twelve thousand hectares of land, about 420km southeast of Katherine, at Elliot, has been earmarked for the project. Once completed it is estimated the project will export $1 billion dollars worth of solar electricity annually.
But an undersea cable to Singapore is yet to be built.
The NT Government's Chief Minister says the project will "put the NT on the international map", and create 1,500 jobs during construction and 350 ongoing positions once operations begin.
"This project will transform the Territory into a renewable energy powerhouse, and cement our position as Australia's comeback capital," Michael Gunner said.
Close to the small town of Elliott, about halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs, lies an ephemeral wetland, home to rare bird species and an important breeding site for waterbirds.
"[We are] concerned by the scale of land clearing required for the project, which will significantly increase the Northern Territory's greenhouse gas emissions, and cause the destruction of wildlife and their habitats," Ms Molloy said.
"Lake Woods has an extensive catchment area that encompasses at least part of the project area, and is an important habitat for migratory birds."
She said constituents in the Barkly region have voiced concerns that the land will be used with no benefit or return.
"Aboriginal residents in nearby Marlinja, Elliott and Tennant Creek are experiencing devastatingly high summer temperatures, failed wet seasons, and are forced to live in housing that is not fit for these conditions due to decades of government neglect," she said.
"The cost of electricity in particular is extremely prohibitive in these communities.
"We've noted large projects in the remote Northern Territory - for example, mines - have a reputation for extracting the natural wealth of the Northern Territory for overseas customers and corporate shareholders and executives, with little return for local Aboriginal people or local economies beyond those contained in native title agreements."
In a statement, Sun Cable chief executive David Griffin said the project would generate competitively priced, renewable energy at scale and "make deep cuts to [the NT's] emissions intensity".
He said the company has plans to establish a Renewable Energy Centre of Excellence in the Territory to build on research and the development of renewables.
Darwin-based company EcOz has been tasked to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the solar project, before the first bout of renewable power begins to flow into the NT by 2026 and Singapore from 2027.
However, Ms Molloy says it is "vital" that Sun Cable undertakes an exhaustive and transparent study of the environmental impacts of the project.
"Sun Cable should commit to offsetting these impacts locally. It is not sufficient to rely on greenhouse gas emissions reductions as an offset for these impacts," she said.
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