The environmentalist praised the group for its sustainable energy efforts and said the BioRegions project will prove critical to the future of the county’s 80,000 citizens.
Westmeath Community Development chief executive Joe Potter came up with the plan, in association with Patrick Daly.
Mr Stewart said: “This initiative is now timely for farmers, foresters, small green businesses and householders. They can be motivated to embrace this by taking real actions in substituting expensive oil, coal, and gas imports, with local, more cost-effective and zero-carbon emitting bio-energy fuels. The BioRegions group have clearly learnt from the experiences and examples of more developed regional communities in Europe.
“The outcomes of its action plan can now be spearheaded and mainstreamed through many small, green, co-operative enterprises that could make Westmeath the model sustainable region and lead other rural regions of Ireland to follow its example.”
BioRegions is a three-year inter-European project funded by the European Commission under the Intelligent Energy Europe programme.
The group says the plan brings fresh ideas and forms a strategic framework and ‘roadmap’ that will open up opportunities for new sustainable enterprises and employment for all rural communities of Westmeath.
Chief executive Joe Potter said: “This action plan is a prelude to more proactive engagement in developing this sector and the wider issue of sustainable energy, given the relationship to job creation and other rural development objectives.
“We are delighted with the commitment of our stakeholders and we would like to extend an invitation to further organisations to come on board.”
In terms of sustainable forestry, Teagasc has committed to assess the extent of potential thinnings for biomass usage and broad leaf timber for firewood. It has undertaken to develop a course on bioenergy including forestry and supply chain development.
Westmeath County Council is to pilot the installation of biomass boilers in a number of local authority houses with a view to potentially converting further buildings. It is also reviewing the suitability of biomass boilers in some local authority buildings.
The IFA is planning a feasibility study into the energy and economic potential of small-scale farm biogas plants on a representative number of local farms and farm types in the county.
Bord Na Móna has a target to co-fire 300,000 tonnes of biomass annually at their Edenderry Power plant by 2015 and will be promoting the establishment of willow plantations throughout the Midlands.