In May 2014 SLR Consulting Ltd was commissioned by the Western Development Commission (WDC) to conduct a study of the local economic and social benefits of bioenergy installations and their associated supply chains for the BioPAD project. The aim of this study was to measure and highlight where the employment from bioenergy occurs at a local level and to demonstrate the contribution that bioenergy development can make to rural and peripheral areas.
The research used a case study approach selecting eight examples working within the bioenergy supply chain. Data was gathered through literature review, telephone interviews and web search. This was then analysed in terms of economic and social impact, lessons drawn from the findings and conclusions presented.
The study was conducted at a time of change in the bioenergy sector in Ireland, with the Energy Green Paper (May 2014) and the newly announced Bioenergy Plan (July 2014). The Green Paper recognises the importance of realising the major opportunity that sustainable energy presents in terms of job creation and economic growth, whilst the Bioenergy Plan will put in place a number of policy and enabling actions to realise the potential of bioenergy deployment in Ireland.
The study identified that bioenergy makes a direct, focused and sustainable beneficial impact on the local economy within the rural parts of the WDC region in Ireland. The case studies illuminated the complexity that lies behind the question ‘how does bioenergy impact on local economies’?
Typically investment is centred on equipment sourced from outside the region, with no immediate direct local benefit. However this then generates a decades’ long demand for biomass which creates local jobs and raises income in the area. Any given installation is likely to generate only a fraction of a job across the supply chain but developing installations in many, hospitals, supermarkets, clinics, factories, and offices would potentially create very significant local employment.
Realising this potential will require a number of specific weaknesses in different parts of the economic and social environment to be addressed. These range from developing forestry culture to encouraging innovative financial mechanisms that allow communities to participate fully in investment and retain profits that would otherwise flow away from the area in terms of interest payments and dividends. These can then be spent or reinvested locally. Success will be greatly magnified if progress can be made on all, or most, of these fronts as such comprehensive change will help transform attitudes to bioenergy, arguably the critical issue.
The summary of the full report can be seen here: Local Economic and Social Benefits- summary final 23.09.14