Law and energy

30 August 2017

If Professor Samantha Hepburn's original career aspirations had gone to plan, she would now be a top barrister "fighting the good fight through the courts". Fortunately for Deakin, the renewable energy sector and the planet, fate intervened.

After a year as a practicing lawyer, the lure of a doctorate and a love of teaching law became too strong for Deakin University’s Professor Samantha Hepburn to resist.

Over the years since, a growing interest in climate change and the regulatory and policy responses relevant to a transitioning resource sector have seen Professor Hepburn develop an impressive reputation for her work in this field.

Professor Hepburn’s story is the first in a new series for the Deakin Research blog ‘Invenio,’ showcasing the people behind Deakin’s research and uncovering what drives them to make a difference to the world.

From medical breakthroughs, to developing world-first technology, to discovering new ways to protect the environment, to building understanding between different cultures, Deakin’s researchers are creating innovative solutions to real-life issues facing our world.

Every one of them has a story to tell, and each month ‘Invenio’ will bring you that story in their own words.

Who is Professor Samantha Hepburn?

The Director of Deakin’s Centre for Energy and Natural Resources and a Professor of Property Law at Deakin Law School, Samantha Hepburn teaches and researches law in the areas of energy, mining, natural resources, climate change, environment and land. She is particularly interested in the regulatory and policy developments relevant to an energy landscape transitioning to renewable energy production.

The author of numerous books, including a Mining and Energy Law book with Cambridge University Press, Professor Hepburn has also written many research articles examining the policy and regulatory environment for a transitioning energy framework, including the shifting public interest responsibilities of government within a public resource framework, ownership difficulties underpinning the fragmentation of land and resources for carbon capture sequestration, and the policy and environmental concerns relevant to unconventional gas extraction.

Her latest piece, for The Conversation, examines the Victorian government’s plans to legislate its own state-based renewable energy target.

Professor Hepburn has also been involved in many industry, government and academic conferences, panels, committees and discussion groups and has presented at Harvard Law School’s Environmental Policy Unit. She regularly presents her work to industry, government and community forums.

In her own words…

Why do you do what you do?

I love teaching and research, but what truly motivates me is the profound importance of developing rules that help to create a more sustainable future for our social and natural world.

In the age of the Anthropocene [a geological era characterised by humans’ influence on the planet], planetary boundaries are being crossed at a rapid rate, and economic and population growth threaten the accessibility and reliability of existing water, energy and food supplies.

Within this world, strategic governance of energy resources, water, food and climate sectors is at the forefront of the global agenda. Domestic and international law has sought to address scarcity, mitigation and adaptation challenges. However, more work is needed.

I hold a privileged position as a Professor in a strong Law School. I’ve had the advantage of a good education and the opportunity and capacity to develop strong expertise and knowledge. As such, I believe I have a professional, social and ethical responsibility to make as significant a contribution as I can to the future development of energy production and natural resource management, at both the domestic and global level.

What are the most important issues right now?

Australia, like the rest of the world, is transitioning to a new energy landscape. Climate imperatives and technological innovation are driving this change, and regulatory frameworks are struggling to keep pace.

In a decarbonised economy, where coal generated electricity is decelerating, new projects for renewable energy production are rapidly expanding. These projects, as well as new forms of conventional and unconventional gas production, are increasingly being developed in areas with no previous experience in energy production. This has generated new social and environmental concerns for affected communities.

Renewable energy projects also require strong government subsidies to encourage investment and progression. It’s important that the measures which include frameworks such as feed-in tariffs, network pricing and renewable energy targets function effectively at the regulatory and policy level.

Strong and effective regulation not only supports energy transition, it promotes energy security – a critically important concern for all Australians.

What needs to happen next?

Renewable energy production must be properly facilitated and, at the same time, energy security prioritised. These were two key priorities for the recent Independent Review into the Future of the National Electricity Market (the “Finkel Report”), released in June this year. Its recommendations indicate that Australia needs to increase system security through security obligations for new generators, which are implemented by the Australian Energy Market Commission and the Australian Energy Market Operator.

In essence, the Finkel Report recommends that these obligations require new generators to supply electricity when needed for the duration and capacity determined for each National Energy Market (NEM) region. Governments need to agree upon an emission reduction trajectory in order to ensure that the electricity sector has clarity regarding how it will meet Australia’s international commitments.

A credible and durable mechanism for driving renewable investments is also critical. The Finkel Report recommends a clean energy target that will operate to incentivise clean energy production, improved system planning, the development of a NEM-wide integrated grid plan to inform future investment decisions, the deployment of new technologies and improved integration of variable renewable electricity generators.

These changes are all within our reach, but require careful development and implementation.

What does it take to be a researcher in your field?

This is a dynamic area of research to be involved in – there is a lot of exciting and inspiring change occurring. Cross discipline expertise is important, because the production of energy and effective management of natural resources involves multi-faceted discipline expertise, so I am extremely fortunate to be involved with Deakin Energy, which brings together scientists, geologists, economists, engineers and sociologists.

This is a rapidly changing sector, so I need to stay in touch with industry developments, regulatory changes and social and environmental perspectives. It’s important to have an international perspective, as many of the regulatory issues Australia is facing domestically have already been encountered by different countries.

Researching those countries’ regulatory and policy responses and attending global conferences and panels is vital. I read as much as I can, attend expert industry conferences and always make time to read Energy White Papers and provide expert commentary on recommendations.

What would you do if you weren’t doing this for a living?

I would be a chef. I really love to cook and I get totally immersed in the process. I have nearly 150 cookbooks on different methods, cuisines and types of cooking and I’m always saving up for a bigger and better oven or piece of kitchen equipment.

Flavours, food combinations, methods and produce selection are very important. I love to entertain my friends and family. I grow my own vegetables and, in my dreams, I would very much like to one day make my own wine. I recently discovered a Bordeaux blend called “Samantha's Paddock,” and I can remember thinking wistfully that I wish I got there first.

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By Deakin Research

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Samantha Hepburn is Director of Deakin's Centre for Energy and Natural Resources and a Professor of Property Law at Deakin Law School.

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Samantha Hepburn is Director of Deakin's Centre for Energy and Natural Resources and a Professor of Property Law at Deakin Law School.

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