Thursday, November 01, 2012

Renewable energy can benefit rural communities, but government policy changes can enhance them

Renewable energy development has increased in recent years, and since solar and wind farms need large amounts of land, rural areas attract much of that development. But the economic benefit from the industry in those areas is unclear. A new study from the global Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that renewable energy development does have a positive impact in rural areas, but is enhanced with a specific policy framework and long-term strategy, which many of those places don't have.

Case studies in 16 rural regions of Europe, Canada and the U.S. were examined for two years. Researchers found that renewable energy development grew by 26 percent from 2005 to 2010, to the point that it provides about 20 percent of the world's power. According to the report, "Linking Renewable Energy to Rural Development," such projects can provide communities with new revenue sources, new jobs and business opportunities, affordable energy, capacity building and community empowerment.

However, the report says public policy on such projects should be "grounded in local conditions and opportunities . . . that focus on the competitiveness of rural areas." The report suggests rural communities embed energy strategy in local economic development, integrate renewable energy within supply chains in rural economies -- such as agriculture, forestry and green tourism -- ensure local acceptance by being clear about benefits to the community, and avoid types of renewables that aren't suited to specific communities.

Renewable energy should be integrated into a community rather than being forced into a community where it doesn't fit. Report author Raffaele Trapasso told Andreas Breyer of Solar Novus Today that "Renewable energy should not be considered as a stand-alone sector within the rural economy. It should be connected to local activities and business; possibly to a core specialization within the community."

The full report is available for purchase from the OECD, but the executive summary can be accessed here.

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