Three major, Indigenous-led solar and storage projects announced for the NT in $1 billion investment plan


Desert Springs Octopus, a majority Indigenous-owned company backed by Octopus Australia and formed in 2022, has signed agreements with two First Nations groups from Darwin and Katherine – the Larrakia Nation and Jawoyn Association.

The new partners will initially pursue solar and battery projects, including:

  • 100 MW to 150MW of solar with 30 MWh to 50MWh of storage near Darwin;
  • 60 MW to 80MW of solar coupled with between 5 to 10 MWh of storage for mining operation; 
  • 10 MW to 15 MW of solar with between 2 MWh to 3MWh of battery storage for which the Australian Defence Force is expected to be the eventual offtaker.

Desert Springs Octopus says it will pursue a near-term investment of $1 billion (USD 650 million) into grid connected renewables along the Darwin-Katherine Electricity System. 

Despite its natural resources, the Northern Territory massively lags Australia in terms of its renewable energy penetration. This is due to a number of factors, including the Territory’s historic and continuing reliance on gas, an adverse regulatory system for renewable projects and higher costs since renewable industries have not yet reached scale.

Coming back to Desert Springs Octopus, the company says funding for the projects will come from a mix of wholesale, impact and institutional investors. Presumably the partners will also use the two new investment platforms set up by Octopus Australia last year, known as OREO and OASIS.

Green hydrogen projects will also be part of Desert Springs Octopus strategy in the NT, the company said – though no timelines have been given for this.

Most First Nations communities living in the Northern Territory are powered by diesel gensets. The power they produce is both unreliable and dirty, and extremely expensive – a fact which intermingles with regulations to routinely leave communities both literally and figuratively powerless. In the 2018-19 Australian financial year, 74% of households in the Northern Territory’s remote Indigenous communities lost power more than 10 times, mostly on “dangerously” hot days, a recent study published in Nature Energy found. Pictured: Borroloola residents plan a solar microgrid project.

Image: Original Power

Desert Springs approach

Desert Springs Octopus (DSO) has renewable energy Benefit Sharing Agreements with the Larrakia Nation and Jawoyn Association underlying the partnership.

Octopus Australia’s Managing Director, Sam Reynolds, previously told pv magazine Australia the DSO in fact formed at the behest of Bevan Mailman, now the Co-Chairman of Desert Springs Octopus, as he was looking for a renewable partner. That is to say, the Octopus Australia component frame themselves as taking the passenger’s rather than driver’s seat, seeing their role as learning from and listening to Indigenous groups and communities.

This approach Reynolds frames as fundamental given the history of First Nations communities and lands being exploited. Octopus Australia’s former Investment Director of Energy Markets, Lumi Adisa, who worked on Desert Springs Octopus during its formation described the endeavour as building a new kind of business culture based on trust and respect.

In 2021, the First Nations Clean Energy Network was launched to seeks to enable First Nations communities to “share in the benefits of this clean energy revolution,” as founding member Chris Croker described it.

Image: Original Power

Adding to this point, Reynolds previously noted First Nations communities can be understandably skeptical of businesses coming in and making promises. “They’ve seen a lot of people like me,” Reynolds said last year. “There’s a big history we need to get through.”

Reynolds is referring here to historic mishandling by mining and resource companies in Australia. As renewable energy rapidly becomes a dominant industry in Australia’s regions, there are fears and some red flag this history may again be repeating itself.

CEO of Northern Territory Indigenous Business Network, Jerome Cubillo, however described the Desert Springs Octopus and Larrakia and Jawoyn partnership as “a lighthouse model for others to follow.”

“This is what real economic self-determination looks like,” Cubillo said.

“We believe that starting with Benefit Sharing Framework Agreements is the key to strong and enduring relationships with Indigenous communities, and we are proud to partner with Jawoyn and Larrakia Nation,” Reynolds said.

“We are looking forward to being a genuine partner in this exciting project that aligns with our values of protecting and caring for Country,” CEO of Larrakia Nation, Michael Rotumah, aded. 

The Larrakia and Jawoyn communities are connected to large swaths of Country around Darwin and Katherine, the equivalent to 25% of the UK land mass. This includes Australia’s closest major port to Asia, one critical for hydrogen export.

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