Recent demographic change has made the restructuring of public services absolutely essential. But this won’t be possible without financial support. In this vein, the district of Rhine-Hunsrück wants to use the potential offered by energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy (EEE) strategies to generate value across the board. The district, its affiliated municipalities, and the unaffiliated city of Boppard joined forces with residents to seize the opportunities created by demographic change to develop new, targeted approaches to the public services challenge. As a part of the “Future Ideas” project (ZukunftsiDeeen in German), the project partners developed an integrative approach that combines the areas of public services and renewable energy. The Steinbeis Consulting Center for Regional and Communal Development and the Institute for Applied Material Flow Management (IfaS) worked as scientific advisors on the project.
Capacity problems in the provision of public services, a direct result of demographic change, can readily be classified into three spheres of action based on fundamental needs: life – habitat – work. But it is difficult to know if and how the current technical and social infrastructure will remain viable in the future. Because of this, individual strategies will be necessary to bring local needs and prospects to the forefront and to develop customized strategies. The goal of “Future Ideas: innovative public services through energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy in the district of Rhine-Hunsrück” was to gather ideas through general public participation. The process involved asking residents and key players how best to take advantage of opportunities in the area of renewable energies and, thus, better overcome challenges in the provision of public services.
The project revolved around seven planning workshops. These took place in each of the municipalities and in the city of Boppard. During each workshop, participants acted as “local experts” to develop concrete strategy proposals to address different objectives in the areas of local infrastructure, the labor market and energy supply. In the end, approximately 400 participants came up with a total of more than 600 suggestions.
The planning workshops were evaluated in early 2013, revealing five areas with the largest need for action: medical provision, local infrastructure, transport, building management, and energy efficiency, including decentralized energy supply and inclusion. In order to pinpoint the exact nature of these needs and further develop the ideas from the planning workshops, local experts were called in for open “discussion workshops.”
At the moment, a “Planning Advisory Council for the District of Rhine- Hunsrück” is being set up to handle implementation of selected flagship projects and drive them forward. The council was conceived as a merger between local experts and key players known for commenting on and criticizing local politics. As such, it will consist of political decisionmakers as well as residents, with residents receiving 50% representation plus one vote. The council will be responsible for the implementation of project proposals and driving the connection between public services and renewable energies in the district. In addition, each municipality will establish various working groups for these “future ideas” with its residents, which will report to the planning council and initiate local projects.
The Steinbeis Consulting Center for Regional and Communal Development separated findings into two areas. On the one hand, suggestions were made by specific location on ways to secure sustainable public services in cities and municipalities. These included a system to capture all options for dovetailing public service projects with renewable energy. These ranged from reallocating finances to combining the content of both modules into one project. This systematic process will enable the district to scrutinize proposed projects and actions in terms of their overlap with EEE, and consider commonalities as early as the planning stage.
On the other hand, the process, which was marked by intense involvement of residents – in the planning workshops, the discussion workshops, central events and the work of the planning council – revealed a strong interest in the issue as well as a willingness to play a role in the planning and implementation of solutions.
In June, a meeting on the “Future Ideas” project took place in the Rhine- Hunsrück Hall in Simmern. Approximately 200 people attended the event. With Federal Ministry for Education and Research funding of the project coming to an end, Rhine-Hunsrück district community members and key players voiced their support for the flagship project, also emphasizing that it should be pursued further with participation from residents at the district and municipality level. In a keynote speech, Malu Dreyer, the Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate, highlighted the incredibly innovative character of the project and praised the groundbreaking results.