The article below was Published April 2013 in Environmental Leader.
After being in the public affairs business for nearly twenty years, it still amazes me how few developers and companies use random sample polling when launching a public affairs campaign to gain support for projects. A random sample poll allows for developers to inquire into popular opinion in order to be better prepared in utilizing public support and combating cases of opposition. Many renewable projects are going to face both of these cases of controversy and opposition, and “political style” campaigns should be instituted to ensure effectiveness and efficiency of the project. A poll saves money for any public affairs campaign by defining which area of the population to target and with what messages. Why send direct mail to all residents, if you know ahead of time a certain demographic will not support you? A poll pays for itself in nearly every case.
As part of any good campaign, a poll to gauge resident support will highlight any potential complaints that could arise throughout the project, as well as any sources of endorsement that could be used during the development and implementation processes. Many recent polls express popular public support for renewable energy projects around the country, strengthening projects against many negative NIMBY testaments. For example, a recent national poll showed that 92% of registered voters said that it was important for the United States to develop and use solar power. This result demonstrates the willingness of the American population to accept the existence of renewable energy projects, which is encouraging news that promises favorable outcomes for companies looking to invest in alternative energy. Another poll supplemented this testament of widespread public support by stating that respondents gave their highest marks among energy producers to wind and solar companies for satisfaction with business efforts of renewable energy projects. Energy efficiency and renewable energy ranked high among respondents’ concerns in the same poll as areas where they believe the country could do more to ensure sustainability for the nation’s environmental future. Developers can use vital information such as this to their advantage, as their projects have the potential to implement important changes in environmental sustainability.
Another example is Castleton, Vermont. This Vermont community is currently undergoing a development project that is implementing wind turbines along the town’s ridgelines. At the beginning of the project last year, a local poll showed that support for the project among residents was 69%, a very solid number that promised developers little trouble during the life of the project. Armed with this number, the company could campaign effectively, knowing that popular support was tipped in their favor. They did not have to expend any superfluous amounts of money or manpower to get the community on their side because the poll demonstrated that the majority of it already was. However, the poll reissued this year showed that the support level was down slightly to 66%, a potential warning sign to developers that their support among the community could potentially fall. Armed with this information, the project could still continue as scheduled, due to the fact that the majority of the residents still did indeed support the turbine construction, but now those behind the project will be able to plan accordingly if that percentage continues to drop. By being prepared for any sort of interference throughout the project, developers can ensure the maximize efficiency throughout the implementation, and the overall effectiveness of the renewable energy project.
On a more national scale, last fall President Obama delayed construction on the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was intended to create a connective line between Canadian tar sands and Texas oil refineries. Now that the President is back in office for his second term, opponents of the pipeline are now pushing for the project to be terminated all together. Interestingly enough, national polls suggest that there is a 4-1 ratio between those who support renewable energy projects over the pipeline. Renewable energy developers can look favorably on this poll as they consider their projects carefully. The country is ready for alternative energy sources, and the Keystone pipeline case demonstrates how polling can arm developers with positive and encouraging information such as this. Independent voters in the same poll favored monetary investment in wind and solar powers over oil, a result that should give confidence to renewable energy developers in the success of their projects.
These polls, among many others, are a testament to the enormous potential of renewable energy projects and they positive impacts they can have on our nation. Since these polls can survey public support for a project, both time and money can be saved on renewable energy if developers gather all of the poll information not only prior to construction, but also throughout the life of the project and even after completion. By giving the people a voice in a renewable energy project, a poll can offer crucial insights as well as build confidence and trust between company and community.
Since time is truly money, those developers who are armed with information reaped from a random sample poll will be better prepared to handle any potential delays caused by NIMBY involvement, and will be more confident in the support and success of their projects.