Biofuels and community participation: Engaging process in the emerging bioeconomy

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2007: $22,709.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Sharon Lezberg
Environmental Resources Center

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, workshop
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, public participation, sustainability measures


    Project collaborators from the University of Wisconsin Extension (UWEX) worked collaboratively to develop a “Bioenergy and Renewable Energy Community Assessment Toolkit” – a decision-support tool for Extension Educators to aid in facilitation of community participation in bioenergy development.
    The toolkit contains:
    (1) an introduction to the concept of sustainable bioenergy
    (2) an introduction to the community assessment matrix
    (3) a community assessment matrix to evaluate opportunities and impacts of renewable energy options (annual/perennial biomass, woody biomass, corn grain ethanol, anaerobic digestion, and wind energy)
    (4) a series of questions for discussion about impacts
    (5) a community assessment checklist
    (6) lessons learned about community participation

    Close to 100 Extension colleagues and other natural resource educators received training on the use of the community assessment matrix at four different conference settings. The matrix was also utilized by Wisconsin Extension colleagues during three different programs on renewable energy and bioenergy. The tool provides a framework for facilitating community discussions on renewable energy development.

    Evaluation of the matrix tool indicated that the full matrix is valuable in identifying a wide range of potential impacts, both positive and negative, associated with renewable energy development, but is too complex for use at public education forums or community input session. We developed alternative (simplified) discussion guides for use in educational settings. The full matrix tool would be more useful for detailed analysis by a task force or select group of individuals doing more complete assessment of potential renewable energy developments or a specific project proposal.

    Project objectives:

    The overall long-term outcome of the project is to provide tools and training to Extension Agents and other community based educators that will provide a ‘process for engagement’ whereby community residents are involved in decision-making about bioenergy production.

    Outcomes and performance targets have been modified through the course of the project to reflect current knowledge on the topic and educator needs. At the time of project implementation, very few Wisconsin county based Extension educators had identified biofuels and/or bioenergy development as a significant part of their work; indeed, those who were providing programming in this area were the de-facto ‘experts’ on this subject. Additionally, there was not a lot of community-based experience in how to facilitate discussions on renewable energy development and/or to evaluate developer proposals. Our task, then, was to determine what tools could assist Extension educators in facilitating community involvement in decision-making about renewable energy in general.

    Long term Outcomes
    1. 1) educators utilize a community-based participatory framework to respond to this and other emerging agricultural issues
      2) educators address sustainability concerns of agricultural technology development
      3) citizen voices inform public policy regarding siting of biofuels facilities
    Short-term Outcomes
    1. 1) have access to information about bioenergy sustainability concerns,
      2) gain insights into the process of community engagement
      3) are exposed to tools and skills to promote community participation
      4) gain confidence in their ability to facilitate community participation in discussions about the bioeconomy
    Performance Targets (from original proposal)
    1. 1) develop an inventory of strategies for encouraging community participation in bioenergy assessment
      2) develop training materials for community member participation in bioenergy assessment
      3) conduct an in-service training program for 75 people
      4) test the use of the matrix tool in community settings
      5) share educational materials with others in the region

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.