THERE'S a conference going on in Kuching to discuss renewable energy options for Sarawak and Malaysia.
What makes the Clean Energy Collaboration different is its diverse and wide-ranging mix of participants, comprising stakeholders from energy experts, government and industry representatives and civil society organisations (CSOs) right down to community members from more than 30 villages in Sarawak and Malaysia.
The two-day conference, which started on Friday (March 15), was organised by Save Rivers from Sarawak, Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) and Sabah-based Pacos Trust.
It is supported by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California, Berkeley; the United Nations Development Project; and the Sarawak Convention Bureau.
Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang said this was the first time people from Sarawak's rural communities were participating in discussions on projects and policies with government and industry officials, energy companies, CSOs and local and international experts.
"Serious problems arise when entire communities are left out of the discussion for these types of projects.
"This conference is one step towards ensuring proper consultation for energy projects moving forward," he said.
As a snapshot of what the conference was about, the opening keynote session included presentations by Sarawakian community leaders James Nyurang, from Tanjung Tepalit in Baram, and Long Luwen headman Gara Jalong.
They shared their communities' experience with micro-hydro systems built with the help of NGOs and how this helped to ease the burden of buying diesel for generators.
A high-ranking official from state utility company Sarawak Energy Bhd spoke about the implementation of standalone solar hybrid systems in remote villages while Prof Daniel Kammen from RAEL touched on ambitious clean energy targets and how to achieve them.
Other keynote speakers on the conference's second day include Senator Adrian Lasimbung, who founded the Sabah-based social enterprise Tonibung, and Christine Milne, a renewable energy policy expert and former Australian senator.
Panel sessions covered topics such as finding sustainable energy sources, maintaining rural electrification projects, community involvement in energy projects and new policies in renewable energy.
It's a commendable effort to promote a comprehensive discussion on renewable energy and emphasise a collaborative approach involving all stakeholders.
As JOAS secretary-general Thomas Jalong said, the conference provided an inclusive and participatory process for stakeholders, including the indigenous peoples, to explore and identify energy development models that are socially acceptable, environmentally sustainable and economically just.
Hopefully, this will go a long way towards clean energy collaboration in Sarawak and Malaysia and set the standard for including all stakeholders in development projects.