Rural Community Network, Public Conversations and Renewable Energy
The RCN was established in 1991 to give a voice to rural communities on issues such as poverty, disadvantage and equality.
In April 2014 the group held a conference for rural community groups to explore issues related to wind energy, and have supported groups and activists in objecting to wind energy development.
They have also supported communities in considering the potential of renewable energy as a social enterprise.
The number of wind farms has grown significantly in the past decade, and this has become a highly contested issue in rural communities.
The NI Executive has committed to obtaining 40 percent of NI electricity from renewable sources by 2020, much of that from wind.
In order to meet this target, further wind energy infrastructure development is inevitable in rural areas. Some wind energy developers have previously characterized community objections to turbines as a form of NIMBY-ism. (Not In My Back Yard-ism)
The RCN believes that this is a pejorative term that polarizes the debate and ignores the fact that communities have long-held and legitimate attachments to their landscape. The network believes that local opposition to wind energy infrastructure needs to be understood not as obstructionist, but rather as a form of protection of place.
The RCN will identify and work with three communities impacted by plans for wind energy development, working with 20 group members or activists in each.
The project will also engage with representatives of the wind energy industry as well politicians and policy-makers at local and assembly level.
The NI Assembly Environment Committee Inquiry into wind energy recommended that a community engagement toolkit be developed and used and that pre-application community consultation and engagement reports should be prepared.
Development of wind energy has become a very divisive issue in many rural areas, with groups on both sides of the issue very determined and organised, with a lot at stake, both for those against wind energy and the companies for whom wind energy is their core business.
RCN has selected the public conversations project (PCP) dialogue as its civic activism tool because it is designed specifically for discussing divisive issues that are not easily resolved through compromise.
These issues are often informed by deeply personal questions of identity and worldview, which is the situation in some wind energy host communities here in NI that have long traditions of protest and suspicion of outside authority.
The wind energy project will be carried out in 5 steps – including identifying three communities in need of the PCP dialogue tool, development of ground rules and processes, a structured process of speaking, listening and reflecting, exploring what comes of the dialogue process and finally a documentation of learning and evaluation.
RCN envisages lessons for all stakeholders, including communities, developers, politicians, policy-makers and planners.