After the project has been constructed, control and management of the fund is transferred to the community members elected to the junta. Contributions are collected annually in order to cover projected expenses and general re-investments. The amount collected is intended to be affordable for residents, and can be paid at once for the entire year or in monthly instalments. Moreover, community members do not pay per kWh as is customary in most energy provision arrangements, as in this case electricity is not simply a commodity being sold to customers. Everyone has a right to this service, and they all pitch in to take responsibility for its provision. Since water runs freely in the river that was partially re-routed to generate electricity, the source of the electricity is also free and energy costs are generally low. For example, fees were collected from all community members – approximately 64 households – in 2016. The contribution amounted to an average of $US67 per household for that year. Yet not all community members pay the same amount into the fund; people who make more money are expected to pay slightly more than those who make less. From one year to the next, the crops of some farmers fare better than others, and as a result some make more money at market and are in a better position to contribute than others. Community members do this willingly, as each family is subject to the same risks, and the farmer that pays more one year may contribute less the next. In this equitable model, all families in the community are able to benefit.
The hydroelectric projects in these communities have created several employment opportunities for both skilled and unskilled local labour. The positions created include machinists, engineers, agronomists, accountants, administrators and various roles involving community leadership. ATDER-BL always prioritises local training, as it is more cost effective and results in better quality work. Their trainings take into account the reality that community members tend to be experienced in the areas of farming, carpentry, masonry and welding, and that people are usually not university educated. In fact, many of the community members involved in the hydroelectric projects have not completed high school. In ATDER-BL’s experience however, not having gone through the formal school system is not an impediment to learning a new skill. Their training focuses on ensuring that teachers are able to identify transferable skills and knowledge sets in the learners, so that they are empowered to absorb new material. These new skills can often be used to create other employment within or outside the community, which in turn benefits the entire community.
Respect for ecology
The approach to hydroelectric development undertaken in these communities respects the important interconnection and dependency of human life upon natural ecosystems. Community members take care to ensure that the project does not contaminate or endanger these ecosystems. Conflicts do however sometimes arise when projects first come together. For instance, projects need to be located near a potential water source, which may be where families live and farmers grow crops. ATDER-BL’s approach to this potential disruption has always been to keep open lines of communication with the community in order to foster mutual respect among people. This tactic has meant that negotiating a compromise is usually not very difficult. The community comes together to discusses the disruption, and those who will be affected are generally provided with financial compensation for any material damage or crop loss. In most cases the farmers are also community members, and will have an incentive to reach consensus as they will also benefit from the electricity produced by the generation unit.
Additionally, ATDER-BL has purchased a great deal of land for protection and conservation in and around the area’s waterways. Some of the jobs created by the association are within the areas of conservation and revitalisation, as ecosystem protection is such an important part of the generation projects. Community members work to keep the groundwater around the plants healthy for the future, and to build skills and capacity about what crops can best be planted where in order to protect the groundwater. In turn, such ecosystem protection helps them to subsist on the same land year after year.
Current and future plans
ATDER-BL continues to focus on providing opportunities for underserviced regions in Nicaragua. They were instrumental partners in the recent creation of the Association of Renewables in Nicaragua (RENOVABLES), and continue to work in solidarity with a number of local and international partners such as the National Network of Actors for Renewables (RENACER) and the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNI) among many others.  Most recently, ATDER-BL has begun to expand its capacity to include the installation of solar power in communities that lack access to energy and are not situated near a water source sufficient for hydro generation. The demand for projects is constantly growing, and there are always communities seeking access to energy. In 2016, ATDER-BL successfully installed 350 solar panels around the watershed in El Bote for dispersed farms far from a significant source of water. However, some 1800 people still live without electricity just outside of the town of El Cua. ATDER-BL hopes to be able to mobilise both national and international funding and support for projects there, and to install a similar number of installations throughout 2018 in other remote areas of the northern highlands. This strategy has proven successful in alleviating persistent energy poverty in the region.