Using a digital campaign to battle opposition to hydroelectric energy

The article below was Published February 2, 2017 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

When any type of renewable project is presented, it is often associated with public opposition, making it more difficult to gain approvals on time, or at all. In many cases, a plan will be well underway, before being shut down due to protests, and other various factors. Despite what the disapprovals may be, it is not too difficult at times to bring a project to a standstill.

As reported by the recent article, “Sikkim: Locals fight to save their community and the environment from hydropower projects” published by The Morung Express, the locals of Sikkim, India are making it incredibly difficult for the government to continue to produce the anticipated 520 MW Teesta Stage. This is the fifth hydroelectricity project that has been proposed, and protested in Sikkim.

The article goes on to state that since India’s National Hydro Power Corporation was granted permission to build on the dam of the Chandey Village in Dizongu in 2012, it has been an ongoing struggle to in fact do so.” Lepchas” make up a so-called “vulnerable tribal group” in Sikkim, and play a large role in the effort against the hydroelectric energy projects.

Lepchas have made claims that the people of North Sikkim have already suffered a great deal of environmental damage, and that these potential plants threaten damage to the Khangchendzonga National Park, which is protected by UNESCO.

In addition, the Lepchas raise concern that because the construction of the power projects will make for a great deal of job opportunity, an influx of new workers in the Sikkim area, will become a demographic threat. “We Lepchas are like tigers; an endangered species in India”, said Gyatso Lepcha, General Security of Affected Citizens of Teesta.

After shutting down the previous four projects, it is evident that the locals of Sikkim use various tactics when putting a halt to their governments plans. Here are some suggested tactics that hydro project developers or entities should consider to help gain support and ultimately, this approval:

Digital Campaign

  • Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are two extremely successful, and cost effective forms of campaigning. Because of the massive amounts of information consumed regularly on these sites, it is only palpable that they are a crucial tool in promoting a project of any sort. When using these sites, it is important to know all the different features, so you can use it as effectively as possible. For example, Facebook has a feature that allows its users to create free pages for various topics and events, that can then be shared and liked to grasp the attention of target audiences. With over a billion users, you can guarantee that Facebook will help immensely in gaining support for any proposal. A renewable project company, whether it be hydro, wind, solar or another type of project, can start a support page for that particular project on Facebook, and purchase ads to boost local support for their project. Twitter is another social media platform that encompasses several features, that make promoting for a certain project exceptionally easy. With the use of hashtags to spread the word, and the ability to retweet messages, Twitter extremely effective in reaching target audiences.
  • It is important to create a project specific website that is directly related to the proposal that individuals can use as a reference point. On this website, there are a few items that are important to include. First, a link that allows people to submit letters of support directly to public officials and elected leaders is crucial. Imagine being an elected official and receiving a constant flow of supporter letters on a project? Second, include fact sheets, and any other resources that may help gain support. Third, use the website as a platform to dispel rumors, update residents, and disseminate new information.

It is apparent that with any type of renewable project, comes a great deal of public opposition, making any proposal difficult to complete. However, with the proper use of digital campaigning to reach targeted audiences through social media and a project website, nearly any approval is possible.