Participatory budgeting paves the way for community-focused energy planning

It is important that the community is aware of and involved in the decision-making process.

Author’s note: On May 24 and 25, the Hawaii Power Conference convened state energy stakeholders in Maui, in person for the first time since before the pandemic. New forms of engagement lead the way on a variety of topics, from Molokai’s first community-based renewable energy project to a new “participatory budgeting” model for determining community benefits.

Hawaii has a long history of community activism and a strong sense of belonging. As the state moves toward a clean energy future, strong community engagement is needed to guide more inclusive conversations to ensure large-scale projects benefit both residents and businesses.

With an influx of renewable energy projects needed to meet Hawaii’s 100% renewable energy and decarbonization goals by 2045, a community-focused approach must be a priority when taking steps to meet these worthy targets.

Recent examples like the Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative, Molokai’s first community-based renewable energy project, offer an inspiring example of what is possible when a community is empowered to think critically about shaping its own renewable energy future. .

One process that empowers community members is participatory budgeting, a model that can foster the growth of clean energy projects in Hawaii and encourages community collaboration with project developers, utility providers, and the public. public.

In January 2023, the Ulupono Initiative and the Participatory Budget Project published a report on the PP that delves into how it can be used to benefit communities. In the foreword, the president of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, Leo Asunción, noted that “the time has come for a new model to not only cultivate support for clean energy projects on the islands but, more importantly, , empower communities as full participating partners in renewable energy development.” energy projects that directly impact them.”

As stated in our report, PB is a proven and effective process that ensures that community members have a direct say in how public funds are spent. This can include community benefits such as grants, sponsorships, scholarships, educational and cultural initiatives, and more.

However, to be successful, Equity PP requires open communication regarding plans for future projects and initiatives, focused community outreach to people who are often left out of decision making, and intentional process design with community members.

When the community is aware of and involved in the decision-making process, transparency between the public, developers, the utility, and the government increases. With trust as the basis for planning, everyone can discuss needs and priorities openly and objectively and present and vote on the most equitable, feasible and impactful projects in a community.

Wind turbines in East Maui are part of the state’s plan to reach 100% renewable energy by 2045. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022)

PB presents benefits for all parties. This community-led approach not only centers community members, but has the potential to increase the efficiency of utility planning.

It also gives energy stakeholders the opportunity to build relationships with communities, resulting in a clear vision of how best to implement and sustain future initiatives. When executed correctly, this approach would leave no room for ambiguity in looking at which issues are at the forefront of community needs and ensures community voices are heard.

Involving community members in the early stages of planning is one of the best ways to ensure that a PP process transfers power to marginalized communities and builds equity. It is important to recognize that the realities of the Hawaii regulatory process require large investments of attention, time, and effort on the part of developers, from Requests for Proposals to Power Purchase Agreements, which can result in a “pause” of the PB process. while we wait for the associated regulatory approvals to proceed. . Early engagement supports the process of building awareness, acceptance and trust in the process.

In addition, PB has the potential to reach those who are not normally involved in other civic processes, giving them the opportunity to have a say on projects that will affect their community. In addition, the PB model offers younger members of the community, who are not of voting age, the opportunity to participate in the civic process and have a positive first experience that will eventually shape how they view elections and other civic engagements. in the future. PB officers should focus on how to reach these underrepresented and disproportionately affected community members and consider accessibility when deciding how to gather ideas for the most holistic public view.

Future planning to achieve Hawaii’s 100% clean energy goals should implement PB to engage community members and ensure a power shift of the process to underserved communities to create equity and increase efficiencies.

Read our PB report, titled “Let Communities Decide: Using Participatory Budgeting for Renewable Energy Community Benefit Packages.”