This paper reflects on the experience of co-producing energy strategies on the Dingle peninsula, a rural peripheral region in Ireland's South West. For the past three years, researchers from sociology, community development, and energy engineering have worked in partnership with Ireland's electricity distribution system operator and local non-profit organisations supporting enterprise and community development in the region. This involved coordinating the research with the transdisciplinary partnership established and widespread community consultation (including fifteen community meetings that received roughly 400 attendees) to understand the concerns and priorities of residents. The initial research focus was to incorporate stakeholder preferences into energy scenarios using a simulation modelling tool (Low Emissions Analysis Platform, LEAP). This was revised in favour of support for local development effort to prepare a strategic plan for the area across social, economic, and environmental domains. Widening the scope in this manner posed a serious methodological challenge but was necessary to respond to local needs and foster local impact. The results highlight the imperative of understanding the messy reality within which energy systems operate, and the need to align rural development with climate action policies via authentic engagement. A key contribution from this novel approach is to shine a critical light on the limitations of energy system models. This research serves to highlight the need for co-production/action research efforts that can support real-world transition processes and provide a better understanding of local contexts as an alternative to efforts that would seek to simply improve societal representations within energy system models.