Biofuels and community participation: Engaging process in the emerging bioeconomy
This project develops and provides training materials for Extension educators, NRCS educators, and community leaders to engage community members and stakeholders in evaluating the impacts of proposed bioenergy developments. The project team has developed a matrix assessment tool for five renewable energy options: corn grain ethanol, annual/perennial biomass, woody biomass, anaerobic digestion, and wind). The matrix assessment looks at three dimensions – environmental, economic, and social – for production and processing of the biomass. The tool is meant to be used by community decision makers to assure due-diligence is exercised when evaluating the suitability of energy facilities for a particular locale. We tested the tool in two workshop settings of professionals (Extension educators were the predominant audience for both of these workshops). Comments from these workshops have helped us refine the matrices; additionally, participants suggested processes for how to use the matrices in a community setting. As the project winds down, we are assembling all training materials into a ‘toolkit’ that will be available as a printed workbook and as a pdf on-line. Two Wisconsin Extension educators are prepared to test use of the matrices in their own communities. We anticipate presenting the tool in two additional venues during 2010: at an upcoming meeting of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, and potentially as a poster presentation at a statewide Extension conference. We will continue refining the toolkit through a regional curriculum development project (funded by the National Water Program) and will present the matrix assessment tool as part of a training program being developed through that project (to be delivered both on-line and through regional training workshops).
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.
The long term outcomes of the project are that:
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, and
3) citizen voices inform public policy regarding siting of biofuels facilities.
The short-term outcomes of the project are that educators:
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, and
4) gain confidence in their ability to facilitate community participation in discussions about the bioeconomy.
To reach these outcomes, the project will continue with the following activities:
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 workshops for extension personnel on the utilization of the matrix tool,
4) test the use of the matrix tool in community settings, and
5) share educational materials with others in the region.
1) Factsheet developed: “Lessons learned: ways to encourage community involvement in decision-making about bioenergy development”
2) Community checklist matrix developed for five types of bioenergy development: corn grain ethanol, annual/perennial biomass, woody biomass, anaerobic digestion, and wind. The matrix assessment looks at three dimensions – environmental, economic, and social – for production and processing of the biomass. The tool is part of a toolkit for Extension Educators (information about sustainability issues in bioenergy development) and can be used to assist communities in discussions about, and evaluation of, bioenergy resources and development. A preliminary version of the matrix bioenergy assessment tool is attached.
3) Discussion of matrix tool at Agriculture and Natural Resources Program area conference, and preparation of materials for two conference workshops (that were held in February and April, 2010).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Extension educators have reported, in conference settings, that they can anticipate utilizing the tool with their communities. Educators have proposed various ways in which they anticipate using the matrix: as part of community discussions on energy options, as a reference tool for communities engaged in developing agricultural enterprise zones, and as a model for issues other than bioenergy.
Two Extension educators have indicated interest in testing the tool in their own communities for specific projects in which they are engaged. Colleagues with the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative (WBI) have requested that we introduce the matrix tool at community forums that they are holding in several locations in the state (2010).
The tool will form a component of an on-line curriculum being developed on Bioenergy and Sustainability (through a regional curriculum development project). The module ‘Community development and bioenergy generation’ will include discussion on sustainability dimensions for communities and how to use the matrix assessment tool. The tool will also be introduced and tested as part of a regional training workshop.
Program on Agricultural Technology Studies
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems