Wave Energy Projects Often Battle Public Opposition

The article below was Published July 2013 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

Wave power is being talked about more and more recently, as a way to harness energy from the ocean’s waves by using a large buoy like structure below and above the water’s surface. This renewable energy tactic has been opposed by different environmental groups, community leaders, and the general public for various reasons.

Even though it is a tremendous new way to produce energy, it has not had a fair chance yet to show its full capabilities, because of the opposition.

One opposition group that will need to be battled against when it comes to a new wave energy project are local fisherman.

Many projects have had struggles with fisherman because they believe wave power projects will disturb marine life in the area, as well as block off sections of the water where they should be doing their jobs. A company in Mendocino County, California had to face this type of opposition recently, and in the end their project was shut down.

One hundred and fifty to six hundred and eighty wave energy converters were due to be placed off the coast of Mendocino County in order to harness energy from the ocean. This was opposed heavily by the fisherman of the area, so when the company did not use the strongest tactics to counter the opposition group, they lost the battle, and the project was ultimately cancelled.

In Florence, Oregon a wave energy project consisting of ten floating steel structures off of its territorial coast, was cancelled as well after a battle against a local opposition group. This project would have reduced fossil fuels, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as produced energy for the people of the area through the ocean’s waves.

The proposed project was shut down however after the Oregon Surfrider Foundation complained it would jeopardize the recreation in the ocean, as well as public safety, and the quality of the environment. This is just another example of public opposition making it difficult for a renewable energy project to come together.

The United States is not the only country dealing with wave energy opposition either. In Perran Beach, England, a very prominent surfing town was set to have a wave power project placed about twenty miles off of the coast. This project, the “Wave Hub”, is a fifty six million dollar investment that would generate twenty megawatts of electricity, making it the largest wave energy project in the world. However, local surfers believed that the project would diminish the size of the waves, and hurt the overall economy of the surf town.

It was not the idea of the wave energy project that was being opposed after all, it was the location. With one store manager in the town stating, “I’m for the idea of wave hubs, but this is a ‘NIMBY’ thing: Not in my backyard.” These wave energy projects are a popular idea with some people in the community, but need planning and explaining to gain more supporters and reduce the amount of opposition.

Whether it is the largest proposed project in the world, or a local project that will be used for the better of the community, opposition groups will often find their way into the argument, and make it harder for these projects to become a reality. As that happens, jobs and money are lost each day that an opposition group delays a project. So, when dealing with this type of opposition, it is important to remember these steps.

Educate first, then you can identify. Don’t try to identify supporters of your project until after a fair amount of education. For one, you will have a lot more supporters if you disseminate facts for the project first, thus maximizing your spending.

Identify supporters and code them into a database. Whether it is through direct mail, radio, phone calls, or e-mail, having lists of supporters or undecided residents lying around on paper doesn’t do your campaign any good. By getting your supporters into a database, you can then separate them by town, county and legislative district for effective grassroots lobbying.

Do not focus just on third-party groups for support. Third-party groups are critical for your efforts, but sometimes a few dozen “regular citizens” showing up to hearings and meetings can do your project a lot of good too.

Do not rely just on e-mail. Believe it or not, a fair percentage of people are still not on the Internet. Many of these are of an older demographic, who are often more pro-development than not. Running ads with a website to contact is great, but always throw a toll-free number in there for non-Internet users to contact you.

Use social media. Social media is one of the best ways to begin an educational PR campaign. Various social websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others provide an excellent two-way channel of communication. Not only can such media outlets educate audiences, they also give the public a chance to respond, comment and ask questions. The ability to receive instant feedback is a serious advantage of a social media campaign. Communicating the goals of renewable energy in basic terms will help you bridge that gap with the public.

Following these steps can go a long way in streamlining the process of successfully implementing your project. Remember, it is always important to stay a step ahead in the game. Everyone is going to run into problems proposing wave energy in a community. If you are well prepared though, your project will only experience minor bumps along the way.