Outreach on Any Budget: The New Norms in Renewable Energy Project Development

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The article below was Published July 7, 2016 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

 

Traditionally from the outset, development proposals are not always launched through a formal announcement by the companies that are proposing them. For many renewable companies, informational resources such as an individual project website, social media pages and collateral related specifically to the new project may initially seem excessive.

However, making community outreach, which can easily be tailored to fit any budget, as soon as a new renewable proposal is announced can be beneficial not only in terms of gaining political capital but to help gain speedy approvals during the entitlement process.

The goal of any community outreach made on behalf of a new renewable proposal is to develop and strengthen relationships between a project and the citizens inherently affected by it. The means to achieve this effort is ultimately a grassroots and education drive. Letting the community know a new proposal brings with it many opportunities for economic development, clean energy and/or community improvements is helpful along with transparency throughout the public review process. Companies can take steps to encourage neighbors to speak with one another about the details and benefits of the proposal, and thereby develop an educated base of supporters.

Because the approval process can be a trying effort, especially in small communities, gaining a loyal contingency of supporters to speak on behalf of the proposal is critical. For example, Marshall is a small town located in southwest Minnesota where a controversial solar farm was recently approved to begin construction. The $100 million and 62 megawatt farm in Marshall will be one of the largest in the state, providing thousands of home with electricity.

Initially, some citizens were outraged by the proposed solar farm while others were pleased due to the jobs and economic benefits the project was expected to bring. Even when projects are not met with opposition from surrounding neighbors, it is important for companies to make outreach in some form to be available to answer questions and engage. To do so, here are a few tips that can help companies on any budget:

Don’t lay low…

People are going to talk, so why not give them correct information to talk about when discussing a project from the outset? Announce a renewable energy proposal by meeting with members of the media and issuing a press release. The release should mention the resources available to community members to learn more in depth about the project to encourage utilization of these resources.

Get Digital

Whether a project is part of a larger company with a fully developed website or the first of its kind within an organization, it should have an online presence. Lower budget campaigns may just make a social media site for the project, and social networking is a great start. A project specific Facebook page enables a company to reach targeted audiences in a community either for no cost at all or any cost a company sees fit if the page is boosted. Boosting or advertising on social media platforms will help to increase local awareness and put the project directly into the audience’s newsfeed. Those in support should be encouraged to engage on this platform and follow the page for updates. Social media makes calls to action convenient and effective.

For projects that can build either a landing page off an existing website or an entire site dedicated to the proposal, efforts should be made to develop a grassroots-friendly page. Encourage supporter sign ups, and detail ways to get involved through videos and downloadable fact sheets.

Embrace Data

Especially for the projects that may have an immediate need to get supporters writing letters of support and attending hearings, a resident database will be useful to identify individuals in support, opposition and undecided about their position on the project. Coding residents as such through information gained on digital platforms, as well as more intense tactics such as telephone identification, canvassing and direct mail surveys will help companies to find hundreds or thousands of supporters, where previously there may have appeared to be none. Often times a silent majority exists, but it is a matter of identifying these citizens and asking for their help. With demographic information, party affiliation, political district and email addresses appended to this file, targeted campaigns can be employed should the need arise.

Meet and Greet

Open houses and supporter meetings are an effective way to refute myths and introduce a renewable energy proposal to the community in a conversational setting. Rather than hosting presentation-style events, host an open house so residents can ask questions and gather information that interests them most. Doing so establishes a more personal rapport. Asking for help in terms of writing letters to the editor, submitting written comment and speaking at hearings is also more effective in person. Face-to-face interaction whenever possible will reinforce turnout. Regular communication should take place to rally the supportive base to continue to ensure they have the latest information and resources.

Whether companies intend to run a full blown grassroots campaign or not, many would benefit from laying the foundation for communications to community members as soon as plans are submitted and a proposal is announced. Efforts can get as intricate as retargeting mobile ads to those who attended an open house through “geofencing” or as simple as building a free social media presence. The range is broad, but to defer community outreach leaves the door open for a fire drill approach later on as well as delays that cost valuable time and resources.

Laying a Resilient Foundation for Geothermal in the Caribbean

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The article below was Published June 3, 2016 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

 

Exploratory geothermal drilling is underway in several Caribbean countries, generating new excitement for the potential advances that development in the industry could bring.

Dominica has already confirmed a capacity of approximately 65 MW, while St. Lucia, Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis are all in various stages of exploration. Moreover, St. Vincent and the Grenadines recently received a $5.7 million grant through a Memorandum of Understanding signed to help defray the costs of drilling.

As suitability for geothermal plants on various islands in the Caribbean is determined, it is important for companies, governments and public-private partnerships to work together to educate communities about both the process and potential benefits, even in the earliest stages, to ensure public support when it comes time to announce plans for the permanent plant.

Because the upfront costs of geothermal exploration can be exorbitant given the many site-specific uncertainties, a public education drive to lay the foundation for a supportive community may seem premature at a first glance. However, there are many strategies that allow for a transparent process and help shape public opinion from the outset with the bottom line in mind.

The goal is to open lines of communication with the community before the time comes to assess the permanent geothermal plant proposal in terms of social and environmental impact assessments. Waiting until the assessment stage only leaves audiences to be flooded by large volumes of information.

Additionally, an opposition group will have likely formed to speak out against the proposal in hopes of delaying or cancelling it all together. However, by outlining geothermal’s potential to increase efficiency and lower electricity rates, which are often cited as a barrier to economic development throughout the Caribbean, and announcing a variety of resources that community members can consult to learn more, great potential exists for geothermal projects’ success.

Digital resources offer a cost-effective portfolio of tactics with which to make outreach. A website should be launched before exploration even begins to explain the basic benefits of geothermal to the island and offer insights on objectives of exploration and possible timelines if studies yield positive results.

The website can be simple, containing broad industry-related material to begin, but as exploration progresses and viewership expands, add new functions to the website to supplement the facts. For example, linking third-party validation from various stakeholders such as trade associations, experts or public officials in the form of quotes, news articles and analysis will motivate viewers to support the cause. After viewers have explored the website, they should also have a place where they can sign up as a supporter or ask questions.

To drive traffic to the website, work the angles of both paid and earned media. Media relations is important from the start, from the development of press kits to timely editorial content and op-eds. There is also great potential to increase awareness through paid display advertising on local news websites, enabling viewers to click through to the project website. Additionally, with Google’s options for paid search and display advertising, conversions to the project website can be built on any budget while capturing viewers’ attention as they surf the web in their day-to-day online activities.

One of the most overlooked strategies is developing a social media presence from the outset. A project-specific page is free to create on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and brings the benefit of “social proof” to projects as content is engaged with and shared among peers. Sound-bite content and info-graphics generated as page updates will help improve message saliency and retention. Additionally, social media monitoring should take place to gauge sentiment amongst influencers and community members.

Moreover, through paid advertising to suit any budget on these social network sites, various messages can be tested amongst targeted audiences according to geolocation, demographics, and behaviors, and refined over time. The media landscape has changed drastically over the past decade in large part due to mobile consumption, and thus, attention must be given to these mobile-compatible platforms to reach people with the busiest lifestyles in any downtime they may have.

Once the viability of a geothermal plant is confirmed, hold open house events and community meetings to offer opportunities for community members to learn more in person. Those who have already visited the website or social media pages will be able to delve into the details and gain updates. Those who are less familiar will be able to gain insights through one-on-one conversations with engineers and other various project experts. Since an open house is not a presentation style event, stations should include subject matter for technical aspects as well as benefits to the community, company mission, and ways to get involved to encourage supporter signup.

As the geothermal plant plan progresses, tactics to build public support must expand to mirror those of a political-style campaign in advance of public hearings. The use of grassroots tactics such as direct mail, telephone identification calls and canvassing should be employed to identify all households in support across the island. All supporters, opponents and undecided must then be coded in a unique database that is maintained throughout the entire approval process. Email addresses must be appended as they are obtained for email blast updates.

At this point, once supporters have been identified through signups on the website and at the open house, “likes” and mentions on social media, and canvassing and telephone identification efforts, it is time to create calls to action. A call to action can be as small as posting on social media or as significant as writing a letter to the editor.

With an informed network of supporters, optimization of digital advertising can take place to boost these calls to action, generating a groundswell of tangible support for the geothermal project. Ultimately, the supporter network can be activated for rallies, hearing attendance, public testimony on record. It is this testimony from individual community members that gets the attention of public officials and helps to ensure timely approval to save geothermal projects time and resources in the long run.

Defining the Benefits of Renewable Proposals to Drive Public Buy-In

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The article below was Published May 5, 2016 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

 

In the United States alone, wind power supported a record 88,000 jobs at the start of 2016 according to the new U.S. Wind Industry Annual Report released in April by the American Wind and Energy Association.

This growth marks a 20 percent increase in jobs supported by the wind industry from 2014-2015, and solar and other renewable sources are growing steadily in terms of the economic benefits they bring as well. The Solar Foundation reports that U.S. solar employment represents three times as many workers as the coal industry.

With benchmarks to increase renewable energy installation in countries across the globe, enormous potential exists in the decade to come for job creation along with revenue generation in all renewable sectors.

Many audiences are aware of the environmental benefits of renewable energy projects, and they often have an inkling about the potential for economic development too, as a result. However, as companies propose to build new projects, it is essential that they make an effort to inform the community of the direct impact the renewable proposal will have on their city or town and county.

For example, informing the community that a wind project will create 200 local construction jobs and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue or PILOT’s incentivizes their basis for support. Facilitating an understanding of the benefits to drive public buy-in should be part of the investment any company seeks to make in a locality anywhere. Otherwise, opponents who fear aesthetic changes and support myths will drown out the benefits with their case to stall installation.

Communicating the benefits of renewable projects requires companies to make a formal introduction of a project to the community and then follow up with details on a variety of platforms to enhance recall and recognition. This carefully planned process allows the benefits to then be communicated among peers throughout the town. The following tactics offer ways to strategically introduce and promote proposals to ensure public support is built effectively for timely approvals later on.

Start with Data

A data-centered campaign is most effective for any campaign objective, whether the aim is to gain a straightforward approval from a local permitting authority or to win a more complex town-wide vote. Create a database of registered voters and code those most likely to vote by checking voter history in previous local elections.

Append phone numbers and email addresses as they are obtained, and code supporters, opponents and undecided as they are identified. By coding for district, a campaign can preserve resources by targeting officials wavering in their support to sway them in favor of a proposal. This database will then guide all traditional and digital outreach upon launch of the campaign.

Embracing the Traditional

A press release should be used to announce the proposal and facilitate editorial board meetings with local newspapers to help spread awareness of the project and its benefits. Following up with direct mail and telephone identification calls to all households in a target area is important to reinforce awareness of this new renewable project.

A community open house event is another tactic that enables community members to meet the experts on a project team. One of the greatest mistakes companies can make is to fail to communicate a stream-lined voice while churning out information about a project. To avoid claims of a “faceless corporation,” companies should make an effort to open a dialogue with community members on an individual basis through open house events and eventually telephone and/or email communication to build reliable support.

Navigating the Digital

The creation of a website and Facebook page for the project should also be handled with care but should not be overlooked. Create these vehicles as resources to be placed at the fingertips of community members and reporters alike, keeping content interesting and up to date. Use video footage of company representatives to tell stories and offer narratives of support from community members themselves.

Digital platforms also offer incredible opportunity to utilize cost-effective digital marketing techniques. Display ads can be geo-targeted to capture viewers of news sites within the community to serve the most interested demographic. However, geo-fencing is a new technique that can serve mobile ads to people who attend an open house event for example for up to thirty days after they visit the designated location. Mobile is a rapidly growing platform, so be sure to optimize both ads and a project website itself for mobile viewing.

Additionally, social media platforms now allow for the creation of custom audiences. As companies grow their email lists of supporters, these lists can be uploaded to Facebook for example for awareness targeting. Knowing these audiences are interested already takes one step out of the process and enables companies to ask these viewers to take action faster than it would be appropriate to do for a first-time viewer.

Building the Grassroots Base

The aforementioned actions prime particular audiences for calls to action. To achieve local permits needed throughout the approval process, campaigns must generate letters and testimony at hearings in support, or even voter turnout when applicable. It is far more effective to first educate the base, identify support and direct efforts to drive turnout towards these supporters than it is to attempt to execute calls to action without a reliable known base of support. Too often, projects fail to turnout the silent but supportive majority. These tactics motivate supporters to take action to help achieve success for projects in any renewable industry.

Sustainability Initiatives Must Be Accompanied by Effort to Build Public Support

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The article below was Published April 1, 2016 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

Bhutan is small a country nestled between India and China that is making big waves for its commitment to sustainability. It currently harnesses the power of wind and hydropower, but Bhutan is looking for even more ways to expand generation of clean energy.

The Bhutan government believes that hydropower could become the backbone of the small country’s economy and help support its high carbon emitting neighbors, India and China. In a pledge to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bhutan announced that if its hydropower goals are attained, the country could offset up to 22.4 million tons of carbon emissions in the region through the export of electricity by 2025.

While hydropower seems like a winning idea for sustainability, not only for Bhutan but also for surrounding countries, many still fear that the mini power plants could do more harm than good in local communities.

Environmentalists in Bhutan have voiced concerns about the possible harm that could come from the expansion of hydropower plants. While some believe that there are no negative side effects in terms of emissions from hydropower, others maintain that the plants produce more greenhouse gases in the form of methane from decaying organic matter.

Not only is there concern for greenhouse gases, but also for the biodiversity of the rivers that the hydropower plants would reside in. At the Punatsangchhu project site, there is an endangered species of White Bellied Herons, which some maintain would be threatened in terms of their habitat and quality of life. Furthermore, fears that multiple hydropower plants along the same river exist for fear of impact on river ecology and surrounding communities.

Local residents have also expressed great concern. Bhutan has been called out by locals for implementing hydropower projects in complete secrecy without proper environmental impact assessments to determine the impact on the surrounding environment. Another concern expressed by locals is the displacement of communities. Bhutan’s media reported a possible proposal of a 54 Megawatt Amochhu Reservoir Hydro Electric Project, which would displace the oldest indigenous community of Lhop or Doya people.

The hydropower projects Bhutan is looking to implement would provide a new source of renewable energy and help to bolster the country’s economic engine, but as proposals are announced, hydro companies must make plans transparent and have resources accessible for members of the local community. This is true not only for Bhutan, but also throughout the globe. Building public support will become possible only once companies make an effort to raise awareness of the broad picture and project benefits.

Bhutan and other areas of the world can benefit from the following strategies when moving forward with hydropower projects that need a demonstration of public support:

Educate

It is important to educate the population and make them aware of a proposal’s details. Transparency is important to maintain a good relationship with the community. Building a database will create organization when reaching out to members of the community and stakeholders to inform them about a hydro proposal through the proper channels. Especially in more rural areas, it is important to track all supporters, opponents and undecided parties. By maintaining a solid database that is updated frequently, companies will be able to communicate with ease and in proper fashion to reach their specific target audiences.

Engage with Stakeholders and the Public

With a large project that can affect many people, it is key that there is an open dialogue so that stakeholders and the public are heard. By engaging with the public and listening to their concerns through open house events and presentations to third-party stakeholders, companies can address the issues with the proper answers backed with data. It is valuable for companies to obtain input from many voices in the community because then they will be more willing to work together and figure out solutions to any problems or concerns they have. Open house events also allow for conversations directly with the community members, who will ask questions and learn in depth from project experts.

Identify

As stakeholders and community members learn more through targeted outreach in the form of direct mail, telephone calls, canvassing and other tactics, hydro companies can begin to elicit their support. Too often, projects are announced without a plea for community members or groups to come out and speak on behalf of a proposal. As supporters are identified, engage them in coalition building activities like letter writing and hearing attendance to demonstrate support.

Digital Support

Social media has become a way to communicate with people all over the world. By using this mode of communication, companies can keep key stakeholders and the public updated regularly with progress or any issues that may arise during the projects. It will allow them to monitor sentiment as well as to reach broad audiences. A website is also important to provide maps, related research and other third-party endorsements that will help to validate a company’s project.

How to Build Support for Facilities Projects

The article below was Published March 31, 2016 in Reliable Plant.

In the proposal process for any new facilities project, a variety of factors must be taken into consideration, ranging from the availability of suitable labor to the cost of relocating or purchasing new equipment. However, one factor that is vital to the success of the project yet is often overlooked is the public perception of the proposed project and corresponding need to build public support.

While many proposals provide a host of positive impacts within a community, a portion of the population often objects to the new development proposal to varying degrees. Often, community members in opposition to the project are those most directly impacted geographically. Thus, facilities projects can benefit from building public support community-wide.

Recently, one example of this phenomenon occurred in Daviess County, Indiana. National Salvage and Service Corp. developed a proposal for a new plant to manufacture railroad ties in Daviess County. While the plant would have brought more than 55 new jobs to the region, the proposal faced bitter opposition from neighbors due to fears about the chemicals used in the manufacturing process. Those in opposition proved steadfast, appearing at public meetings and creating petitions to display their strong opposition to the plant.

At the final hearing before the county zoning board, nearly 80 community members appeared to speak against the proposal. Because of this strong public opposition, the county zoning board unanimously rejected National Salvage's request. While the company may still appeal this ruling, at the moment the story surrounding this proposal is one of public fear triumphing over the proposed economic benefits the plant could have provided.

As seen in Daviess County, the strong emotions and fears of a group in the community often lead to bitter battles over confirmation, with developers pitted against community members in their attempts to secure approval for their proposed site. In order to counteract the misinformation and prevent the spread of the negative public perception that may exist, it is important to focus on building public support for a proposal from its inception. While all campaigns for community support are unique, facilities projects can benefit from the application of the following four principles to achieve a successful campaign.

Utilize Purposeful and Targeted Outreach Efforts

In any attempt to build public support, it is essential to identify local stakeholders' interests. Identifying community members and organizations who recognize and support the benefits of the proposal provides a reliable base of support within a community prior to any public hearings. Business groups, neighborhood associations and taxpayer groups are all examples of stakeholders that should be informed of project details to elicit support.

Additionally, identifying the citizen population in a community that is most likely to support the proposal allows for a more effective public outreach campaign. This effort, in many ways, can be structured like a grassroots political outreach campaign. For example, a vast amount of data exists to identify households by political district, age, income, voting history and other demographics. Companies can use this data to their advantage by building a database of likely supportive households for better targeted outreach. Organizing this information in a database prevents companies from wasting resources among those who may be locked in opposition against the project or in a district represented by an official who already supports the proposal. By rallying a public official's constituents in support, pressure will be applied in a targeted manner to bring that official to a position of support. As households are identified in support, against or undecided about the proposal, they should be coded in the database accordingly for follow-up and calls to action in later stages of the campaign.

Employ a Strong Digital Presence

In an increasingly interconnected world, maintaining a strong and updated digital presence is vital to increasing public support for a proposed project. The first step in building an online presence is to establish a website specific to the project, created both to enlist the aid of supporters and to provide information to both the public and the media about the project. Supporters of the project can be identified through a signup page that gathers email addresses for regular contact and calls to action.

However, a strong digital presence goes beyond simply maintaining a project-specific website. When utilized correctly, social media can and should serve as both a means of engagement and education for the community regarding a project. Through targeted advertisements and public calls to action, social media can be used as an effective means of personal engagement with community members who may be unengaged through more traditional means. This effort will promote an organic growth of grassroots support among a micro-targeted audience.

Engage and Educate Community Members

While the importance of a strong and updated digital presence cannot be overstated, it must be accompanied by more local and personal means of engagement. Utilizing information gathered in the database, conduct stakeholder outreach through means such as direct-mail campaigns, canvassing and phone-banking to engage and educate the community about the benefits that the proposal will provide.

In conjunction with these campaigns, direct contact with stakeholders through events such as open houses or personal meetings can provide an important opportunity to shift public opinion in favor of the project. Meeting community members to answer questions and form relationships with supporters is an essential part of the process. By offering information on a one-on-one basis between project experts and community members, these meetings allow you to clear up misinformation and educate individuals on the project facts.

Mobilize Public Support

Finally, the key to building support for a proposal is mobilizing people to take action on its behalf. Identified through personal or digital means, these supporters can contribute to a successful public opinion campaign by demonstrating a local base of support. These individuals can be helpful in a number of ways, from letter-writing campaigns to attending public hearings to serving as local advocates for the campaign. A vocal, supportive presence within the selected community counters public opposition to the project and allows messaging to better reach those in the community who have yet to make up their minds regarding the proposal. By reshaping the local dialogue, mobilizing public support is a vital step in the confirmation process for any proposed project.

How comprehensive analysis and mapping help municipalities place wind projects

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The article below was Published March 1, 2016 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

The city of Bonn, West Germany's former capital, recently was named a leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a study published by the NGO Climate Without Borders, the city's utility company, Stadtwerke Bonn, ranked first among 20 major German municipal utility companies in their responsible use of renewable energies and the efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The study evaluated the percentage of renewable energies within the municipal utilities’ electricity mix as well as the carbon dioxide emissions generated per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Bonn with a population of approximately 320,000, located in the valley of the river Rhine on the south border of the State of North Rhine Westphalia, achieved the lowest emission value: 191 grams (g) of carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted per kilowatt hour (kWh) electricity generated for the residents of Bonn, compared to an average of 508 g/kWh nationwide.

German framework for renewable energy projects

Bonn's high rank in the study is a direct result of the city actively pursuing measures to increase resiliency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide since the 1990’s. Infinite energy sources such as wind, water, and solar energy (as opposed to fossil energies such as coal) are key in the city’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While the first commercially used wind turbines were installed in Germany in the early 1990’s, the implementation of the federal renewable energy law (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz, EEG) in 2000 really set the stage for alternative energy. In 2013, working towards meeting national and international regulations to combat climate change, the State North-Rhine Westfalia (NRW) enacted state-level climate protection regulation defining specific emission thresholds: Emissions from carbon dioxide shall be lowered 25% by 2025 and 80% by 2050 (baseline year: 1990).

In support of these targets, the share of wind energy in the state's electricity mix is planned to be increased from currently approximately 4% to 15% by 2020. This is to be achieved by re-powering – replacing older wind energy plants with newer, more efficient ones – and by installing additional wind turbines. The proposed new wind energy turbines measure as high as 185 m (over 600 feet) and are able to tap into additional wind energy yields, thereby generating up to 3 MW more consistently.

In 2013, a statewide study identified additional areas for potential wind energy production using 3 MW turbines. Within the city limits of Bonn the broad statewide study identified seven areas as potentially suitable for additional wind towers.

Clarendon Hill’s comprehensive project approach:Feasibility & critical issues analysis

A detailed and refined analysis of those seven sites within the City of Bonn was needed to evaluate their usability for wind energy production. Clarendon Hill Consulting together with the local planning firm Gesellschaft fuer Umweltplanung was selected to conduct the analysis.

Clarendon Hill Consulting (ChillCons) has in-depth expertise in conducting comprehensive studies and critical assessments for renewable energy projects in the U.S and in Germany. In an exhaustive approach, ChillCons and its partner screened, analyzed and evaluated specific criteria for their potential project impacts from a wind farm in each of the seven sites.

The project goal was to assess the sites and identify any critical issues - which would preclude the construction of a wind farm at the specific site - early on to eliminate these sites from further detailed analysis. The ChillCons team analyzed criteria including wind energy yield, landscape preservation (scenic viewsheds), and identified protected natural species, European natural protection areas and flood prevention areas. The analysts also looked into the existing power grid infrastructure and possible locations to connect into the grid and developed installation scenarios for the potential construction sites for each of the potential wind energy areas. Potential interferences with close-by radar stations and air traffic from the Cologne-Bonn international airport were another critical factor that was evaluated for each of the seven areas.

Viewshed analysis is an important part of the site assessment

One criterion of ChillCons analysis was the aspect of preserving the landscape and scenic viewsheds. Bonn is a densely settled City area located in a scenic setting: The wide river Rhine parts the City and is bordered by the mountains of the Siebengebirge. The hill area of the Siebengebirge is not only protected by German environment protection laws but is also home to various castles and a distinct tourist destination.

The region boosts various hiking trails and is valued as an important recreation area by local residents, national and international tourists. The views from and to the mountains of the Siebengebirge are therefore very important for the community. ChillCons conducted a viewshed analysis for all seven potential wind areas to determine the impact of a 185 m (over 600 feet) tall wind tower. Thereby Clarendon Hill considered potential impacts on the adjacent community as well as on the regional recreation areas.

ChillCons viewshed analysis resulted in a ranked list of the seven areas based on the level of impact a constructed wind farm would have on each site.A low visibility and low visual alteration of the original character of the landscape were deemed most advantageous.

Mapping & Final Analysis

ChillCons and its partner conducted the criteria screening and impact analysis for the criteria on the seven sites thereby using a Geographic Information System (GIS) extensively. GIS is incredibly valuable for analyzing and overlaying information as well as for visualizing the findings. The consultants produced various maps for all criteria and sites to highlight the findings from their study.

Once all areas were screened, the researchers incorporated the screening results into an inclusive evaluation matrix encompassing all criteria for the seven sites. A final scoring for each site was conducted. This step proved crucial for understanding the big picture. By analyzing the combined potential project effects in all areas, ChillCons team gained a broad comprehension of the implications a potential wind farm construction would have not only within the assessed locations but also city-wide i.e. due to an altered viewshed.

The overall comprehensive analysis resulted in a display of the seven sites ranked according to their criteria evaluation results.

Final results & benefits of comprehensive critical issues studies

The detailed analysis concludes with the findings that most sites within the City of Bonn face several obstacles to develop them for wind energy production. Based on the detailed screening, two sites currently seem feasible. However, due to some new developments related to changing air traffic patterns (flight route for emergency hospital) further screening is warranted before the sites may be developed.

The study lead by Clarendon Hill Consulting is an example of a cost effective comprehensive strategic analysis to evaluate renewable energy projects early on in their project stage. In-depth criteria analysis, GIS analysis and mapping along with strong visualization methods make these types of studies valuable for every municipality or developer to get an early handle on their potential project developments. Critical issues are detected early in the game, providing savings on additional detailed studies down the road.

Isabel Kaubisch

Isabel Kaubisch founded Clarendon Hill Consulting (ChillCons) in 2010 after having worked in the planning and consulting business for about 8 years. Isabel has managed and worked on multiple national and international interdisciplinary projects in the areas of strategic, urban and environmental planning thereby using Geographic Information Systems extensively. Isabel has also provided public outreach services to various clients. She owns a German Diploma in Geography (MS equivalent) and a Certificate from Tufts Universities Urban and Environmental Planning Program. http://www.chillcons.com.

Beyond the Pledge: Ensuring Renewable Projects Receive Approval in 2016

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The article below was Published February 2, 2016 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

With the close of the Paris Conference on Climate Change, a renewed focus has been placed on expanding the usage of renewable energy resources throughout the globe. As 2016 progresses, many political leaders and heads of state have publicly reaffirmed their commitment to this goal.

Within the United States, governors from Peter Shumlin in Vermont to Jerry Brown in California unveiled a host of initiatives aimed at increasing their state’s utilization of renewable resources. Both Shumlin and Brown praised the solar industry, and reiterated their continued commitment to its expansion through both rooftop and larger scale projects. Additionally, Brown presented in his inaugural address a goal for the state of California to source 50 percent of its energy through renewable resources by the year 2030.

In pursuit of the same goal for the state of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a $5 billion clean energy fund to spur investment in the renewable energy industry. Cuomo’s proposals included a plan for 300 new wind turbines in the state, and a master plan charged with directing future offshore wind projects.

Internationally, the premiers of Alberta and Manitoba announced a partnership aimed at expanding their provinces utilization of renewable resources, while delegates from more than 170 nations attended the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. In the keynote address at the event, Mexico’s President praised the renewable energy industry within his country while reaffirming his commitment to 35% renewable energy by 2024. Russia also unveiled a plan to kickstart its renewable energy sector, promising to increase it tenfold by the year 2035.

In addition to Russia and Mexico, a variety of Middle Eastern nations committed to the expansion of renewable energy within their borders. While goals for the region varied, from a target of 15% by 2030 in Kuwait to 30% by the same year in Egypt, these nations too have demonstrated their commitments to expanding utilization of renewable resources.

Despite the good intent communicated by these pledges, some opposition to these goals is sure to remain as projects are proposed. The potential aesthetic or ecological downsides of projects built to achieve these renewable energy targets may garner opposition from members of the communities in which they are proposed or among particular local interest groups. In order to overcome these obstacles, companies pursuing the goals outlined by these leaders should focus on community outreach and building public support for these projects.

Employ a Unified Strategy

In their attempts at community outreach, many large-scale projects struggle to maintain continuity of vision and message, often due to the complexities inherent in their proposals and the ebbs and flows of the approval process. For this reason, it is important to organize attempts at political, stakeholder and citizen engagement behind a unified strategy, with a coherent central vision throughout the entire approval process.

The most successful grassroots organizations utilize a predetermined strategy employed from the moment a project is announced to spread awareness of the proposal and the benefits it will bring to a community. A successful strategy will be multifaceted and centered around three key concepts; identifying third party stakeholders, engaging and educating the community both individually and in group settings, and maintaining a strong digital presence relating to the project.

Identifying the Target Audience

In all attempts at building public support, it is essential to gain an understanding of local stakeholders’ interests. Identify groups and organizations whose mission aligns with the benefits of the renewable proposal. Environmental groups, neighborhood associations and taxpayer groups are all examples of stakeholders that should be informed of project details to elicit support.

Additionally, identify the citizen population in a community that is most likely to support the proposal. A vast amount of data exists to identify households by political affiliation, age, income, voting history, and other demographics. Use this to a campaign’s advantage by building a database of likely supportive households and append telephone numbers and email addresses to prepare for outreach in a highly organized manner. Maintaining a database in this way allows for more precision in targeted communication efforts. As supporters are identified, they should be coded for support level and followed up with for letter writing and attendance in support at hearings.

Engaging and Educating Community Members

Creating a database of likely supporters makes outreach and education exponentially more effective. Tools such as targeted mailings, calling campaigns, and even door-to-door canvassing can then be used to engage and educate community members regarding the project. Often, the first community members to oppose a project are those in its immediate vicinity, an example of the Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) attitude that serves to derail countless renewable projects.

However, many community members located further away from the project site are more likely to welcome the potential benefits, such as jobs and revenue, that such a project will provide. Identifying and educating residents throughout the community, both individually and in group information sessions, is therefore key to building public support for a renewable energy project.

Maintaining a Digital Presence

While the importance of personal outreach cannot be overstated, equally key to building public support is an effective digital presence. The first key to effective online outreach is a project-specific website, designed both to enlist the aid of supporters and to provide information to both the public and the media about the project. New supporters can be identified through a signup page that gathers e-mail addresses for regular contact and calls-to-action. However, an effective digital presence goes beyond simply maintaining a website.

In order to build public support, social media should serve as both a means of engagement and education for the community regarding a project. An October 2015 Pew study showed 65% of American adults are regular users of social media, while 39% utilized social media as a means for political or civic engagement in the past year. Social media, through targeted advertisements and public calls to action, therefore represents an important segment of any targeted community, and it serves as an effective means of personal engagement with these stakeholders.

Ultimately, the goal of this outreach is to build a network of supporters that is willing to respond to calls-to-action, such as writing letters or attending hearings, to help renewable proposals to obtain approval. Heads of state that announce new benchmarks for the industry’s growth play a critical role in expanding a state or country’s energy portfolio. However, only once local communities are on board will specific proposals have a chance to be built as a means to help achieve these goals.

Al Maiorino
President, Public Strategy Group

Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1995. His firm has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Additionally, his firm has worked on projects in twenty states and three countries. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American studies from the University of Connecticut.

Approaching Renewable Projects in 2016 with a Fresh Strategy

The article below was Published January 4, 2016 in Environmental Leader.

In 2015, the United States experienced its third city’s attempt to move to 100 percent renewables. Aspen, Colorado, now joins Burlington, Vermont, and Greensburg, Kansas, as the only cities to achieve 100 percent renewable energy generation in the nation. With the precedent set, one can only assume that new cities will aim to catch up in 2016. As demand for new renewable sources continues to increase, companies must use innovative strategies to make outreach to communities and build the public support needed for local officials’ approval of the new projects.

While Aspen now operates completely on wind, hydro and a touch of solar and landfill gas, too often, the renewable projects in other areas of the country or world that could help achieve a similar goal of 100 percent renewable energy generation never make it to fruition. Instead, they are delayed or even cancelled altogether because measures to build public support are not taken from the first moment a new proposal is announced.

In 2015, hundreds of examples of this dynamic occurred. For instance, in February, a South Dakota solar farm was defeated after 30 residents from properties near the proposal spoke out against the project. In April, a five-turbine wind farm proposal in Scotland was defeated, despite a positive recommendation for approval from planning officials, due to the aesthetic impacts that concerned residents. In August, a biomass-fired CHP plant was rejected in Fife even though it also had the potential to create 20 jobs and an additional 50–100 positions through the sale of heat to other businesses. Finally, in London last September, a six-turbine proposal was rejected after 50 letters of objection were submitted to officials, and calls for a moratorium on wind development resulted.

Public opposition is not uncommon for renewable energy proposals, and in order to see projects through to approval, efforts must be taken to build public support. Too often, a silent but supportive majority exists in communities where a new project is proposed. By incentivizing the issue as “something to lose,” (i.e. tax revenue, jobs, clean energy production) residents will be more apt to speak out in support. There is no magic word to urge people to get involved in support, but through proper education and advocacy techniques, the kinds of defeated proposals of yester-year can have a shot in 2016.

With a few targeted tactics, efforts to gain approval on renewable projects in 2016 could get easier and help lead new cities to increase their renewable portfolios as they desire. To run an effective outreach campaign, companies must remember:

1. The Traditional Press Release Is Fleeting

The press release may always be effective as a supplemental tool, but due to the diversifying sources through which community members consume their news, it may not be enough to reach reporters effectively.

2. Engage on Social Media

Too often companies do not create a separate social media account for an individual project. However, a Facebook page or Twitter account devoted to the proposal enables a company to educate residents both in bite-size and expanded content form. Targeted advertising or “boosting” targeted to those who live in a community help expand the reach of the content rapidly. While this platform must be actively monitored to respond quickly when appropriate, it is essential to the education component of the campaign, and it often gets the attention of the press.

3. Build Mobile-Friendly Sites

A website that serves as the landing page for all web advertising is essential. However, more than 50 percent of information is consumed through mobile devices, so be sure the website is mobile-friendly. Be concise but offer links to fact sheets and extensive research if viewers are interested in learning more in depth. Adding greater functionality to send form letters directly to public officials is a great feature to supplement letter-writing efforts. If this feature is mobile-friendly, residents would be able to fill out their name, email address and zip code and send a letter of support while they are standing in line at the grocery store.

4. Embrace Big Data

As the saying goes, “content is king.” However, to be most effective, companies need the data that tells them where to direct it for the greatest return. Generate a database of all residents, and as meetings and outreach takes place, code residents as supporters, opponents or undecided. Moreover, code this database for political district, party affiliation, voters in previous elections, etc. This information helps narrow the target audience of likely supporters.

5. Create a Call to Action

Many supporters would provide vocal support, but they are never asked. Once efforts have been made to educate the community through news articles, direct mail, websites, social media and other various tactics, create calls to action to get supportive residents involved. Host open houses for all residents and informational meetings for advocates to learn about ways to get involved. Letter writing campaigns and speaker recruitment for public hearings are essential to demonstrate community support to public officials and ultimately, gain project approval for any renewable proposal.

Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group in 1995. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in American studies from the University of Connecticut.

The Effects of Setbacks and Noise Limits on Successful Wind Project Approval

The article below was Published December 2, 2015 in Environmental Leader.

In September, I detailed the reasons why building public support for wind proposals in Lancaster County, Nebraska, should not be a “Plan B.” Just a few short months later, the County Board has adopted tough noise restrictions on wind turbines, reducing the standard noise limit from 50 to 40 decibels of noise during the day. Similarly, in Boone County, Illinois, a setback was applied to turbines, which now must be placed 2,640 feet from a property line. While these noise limits and setbacks are not outright defeats of any specific proposal during its own individual approval process, companies should be cautious of the manner in which these can derail existing and future proposals.

Despite Nebraska’s wealth of opportunity for expansion of the industry, the state still ranks 20th in development of new wind energy projects, according to news reports. This status is unlikely to gain a boost from approval of any proposals in Lancaster County with the new noise limits. A representative of Volkswind USA commented on the restriction, noting his disappointment in the unnecessary prerequisite to the protection of health and safety that now has the company trying to salvage its proposal by relocating to a site in another county. However, given the possible precedent the limits create, local wind advocates fear these limits could spread to other counties as well.

Similarly, residents of Boone County face uncertainty about the fate of Mainstream Renewables’ proposal to bring clean energy and tax revenue to the area, given the new setbacks established county-wide. While companies in this county can still work with property owners to generate waivers for siting reduced to 1,500 feet from a property line, the County Board’s action could have profound impacts on the viability of proposed and future projects there.

By building public support for individual proposals early in the process, companies will have an advocacy group to mobilize when crippling setbacks or noise limits are proposed in the communities they seek to enter. It takes identification of the often silent but supportive majority to build relationships and connect various strengths of advocates to develop a powerful, well-educated advocacy group. However, once supporters of a proposal become aware of any efforts to halt it with regulation, they can write letters and attend hearings to advocate for fair requirements.

By stopping unfair regulation before it starts, companies can ensure timely approval of their wind proposals without risking the loss of valuable time and resources. To achieve success, companies should consider the following rules:

  1. Identify Immediately: While there are many ways to identify supporters, the digital age allows this to be conducted faster than ever. Create a portal for advocates to sign up online to help build an email list for cost-effective calls to action.
  2. Record Data: Know who you have spoken to and who has yet to be reached. A database with residents’ names, addresses, phone numbers, political district and various demographics should be in a company’s possession from the start. Code all supporters, opponents and undecided as they are identified and set messaging to each group in mail or telephone outreach accordingly.
  3. Get Social: Social media is essential both for paid advertising and organic reach. Shareable content broadens the supportive audience and links them to engage directly with material on a project website. The goal should be engagement; not just increasing likes or followers. Create fill in the blank posts to urge a reply from the audience.
  4. Ask Supporters to Help: Too often, proposals fail because companies do not take the time to find supportive residents and ask them to show support. Invite supporters identified at open houses, through contact forms online, or on social media to gather for small group meetings to being the advocacy efforts
  5. Generate a Buzz: Asking supporters to help means equipping them with the tools they need to write letters of support to officials, generate letters to the editor, comment to the media and operate separate social media accounts in support of wind or the proposal itself.
  6. Take a Multilateral Approach: Engage key stakeholders (supportive environmental groups, community organizations, taxpayer groups, community influentials) to encourage them to take a stand in support. Third-party validation reverses the top down communication from the company by adding stakeholders’ special insight or stake in the game.
  7. Take a Page from Politics: Operate the outreach strategy like a political style campaign. Target mail or phone calls to specific legislative districts as needed, and stay ahead of opponents’ messaging. All land use is local, and as a result, elected officials might often just need political cover in the form of a few dozen letters or speakers in support to allow approval.

What Companies across the Globe Can Learn from Japan’s Geothermal Growth

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The article below was Published November 4, 2015 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

Geothermal energy is expanding as a sustainable power source, but the growing industry is still not without its barriers, even amongst the top geothermal producing countries. One such country, Japan, has grown its geothermal energy production to 520 MW, making it the world’s third largest producer.

However, with many projects either conceptualized or underway, various barriers that cause public opposition are still slowing down the country’s geothermal momentum. Companies across the globe can help to secure this industry growth by building public support right from the time of project announcement.

Achieving project approvals without costly delays requires geothermal companies to learn from the trailblazers about the importance of promoting proposals to gain community support.

High investment costs aside, the industry’s potential growth is stunted in many cases due to public opposition.

Related to Japan specifically, ideal locations for geothermal properties tend to lie in national parks and on private property containing hot springs, where exploration is either protested or not allowed at all.

Such locations raise fears of contamination of the area’s natural resources. Residents are also weary of the expense to maintain geothermal, safety concerns and noise pollution, among other factors, making it difficult for companies before proposals are even announced.

Still, Japan is an ideal place for geothermal developmental projects because of its plentiful underground geothermal resources. Companies can benefit greatly from making outreach to the communities they propose projects in to educate residents and engage them in an effort to build public support. Here are tactics and tools geothermal companies can use to help the industry flourish:

Make Outreach and Educate

To dispel myths and educate the community on the benefits of a new geothermal energy proposal, reach out with information as soon as the proposal is announced. Outreach can include building a project website, sending direct mail and hosting an open house. An open house invites community members, the media and stakeholders to come together and view project plans while engaging one-on-one with project experts. The event is set up in various stations that discuss topics such as community benefits, engineering, safety analysis, and remember to have a table for supporters to get involved!

Harness Big Data

As supporters or opponents are identified through the website contact form or at the open house, they should be coded as such into a database of residents, complete with address, phone number, email if available as well as demographic information and legislative district to help reveal your most likely base of support. A phone call to all residents in this database can use a short script to identify all households as supporter, opponents or undecided, and once the database is coded, companies can easily follow up with supporters for mobilization.

Hold Small Group Meetings

Meeting with supporters is essential to keep them informed and engaged. A small group meeting allows companies to educate them on timelines of when approvals might occur, and inform them of ways they can help ensure the geothermal proposal moves forward. Too often, supporters are willing to help out but they are never asked! Letters to the editor in newspapers or letters of support to public officials create tangible support from voters that will catch officials’ attention before the hearings, which supporters should also attend in full force, ready to speak up and prepared with signs in hand to display support!

Get Digital

Beyond a proposal website that allows supporters to sign up to get involved, companies must maximize digital resources to engage residents regularly in a cost effective manner. Posting fill-in-the-blanks such as “I support Geothermal because …” helps to encourage participation rather than just generating likes to allow officials to simply look at the supporter Facebook page, for example, to instantly find individuals’ narratives of support.

Creating shareable content in the form of infographics or even memes can be effective to encourage your messaging to spread throughout the digital sphere. There are many digital tools such as Moovly or Screencast-O-Matic that can walk supporters through action alerts so they know exactly how to contact legislators and make an impact.

Engage Third-Party Stakeholders

In the energy industry, third party stakeholders are key. There are numerous organizations that can offer information that reinforces messaging and offers validation to community members in the form of studies and analyses. As companies reach out to the local stakeholder that would benefit from a geothermal proposal, these efforts should be entered into the database for these companies to be integrated right into the letter writing drives and hearing attendance mobilization.

With the proper preparation, the geothermal industry’s big aspirations can become a reality in Japan or other resource-rich countries. A strategic public affairs plan to build community support should not be an afterthought. Instead, devote the time and resources up front to ensuring a smooth public approvals process to prevent delays from costing exorbitant amounts of time and money, or even cancellation all together.

Ensuring Renewable Energy Goals Become a Reality in the Caribbean

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The article below was Published October 28, 2015 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

The islands of the Caribbean are not only some of the most popular tourist destinations, but they are also economically and ecologically diverse regions with growing energy needs.

The strength of each island’s tourism industry, which comprises a large portion their gross domestic product, is largely supported by the beautiful ecology that attracts visitors to their shores time and time again.

However, the power supply across much of the Caribbean is currently generated by expensive and polluting sources, prompting many governments in the region to seek alternative sources of energy as a way to protect the environment that is cherished by visitors and natives alike. By boosting investment in renewable energy, the region can take a two-fold approach to economic development by protecting its ecologically sensitive areas to safeguard tourism, while providing affordable, reliable access to clean energy for its populations.

Countries such as Aruba, Turks and Caicos, Grenada, the British Virgin Islands and St. Lucia have all signed onto an initiative called the “Ten Island Challenge,” which promotes a transition to sustainable energy production in places with vast wind and solar resources.

The latest island to sign on, Belize, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to achieve 90 percent renewable generation by 2033 and is already at approximately 60 percent renewable through biomass and hydropower.

Similarly Jamaica, home to the English-speaking Caribbean’s largest windfarm, is pursuing a 20 percent increase in sustainable power generation by 2030 separately from the Ten Island Challenge, and already reports $200 million in investments that will come online within the next year.

While these countries have signed on to these goals to remedy high electricity prices, decrease carbon emissions and reduce reliance on expensive fuel imports, renewable companies should still be prepared to launch public affairs campaigns to build support for placement of each project’s infrastructure.

Communities will need to be educated on the benefits of this transition or else community members will resist new projects due to the aesthetic changes that impact the scenic asset of island life. While a turbine or solar panel may indeed change the scenery, communities can be won over with the proper understanding of the economic and energy stability that will be created for years to come.

A variety of tactics can help renewable companies educate communities on the specific benefits of a proposal. Direct mail and open house events allow for a broad reach with strategic messaging.

By sending information right to residents’ mailboxes, an introduction to the renewable project will be made from the start to bring people out to the open house. The community open house event will then provide a venue for residents to speak directly with project experts to ask questions, allowing an opportunity for myths to be dispelled up front. Supporters can also sign up to get involved with advocacy at the open house for mobilization later in the campaign.

Digital advocacy will also be key. As soon as the proposal is announced, a website should be publicized to showcase detailed information about the proposal and provide a long-term venue for supporters to sign up to get involved beyond the open house. Promote a Facebook page in support of the proposal to build an audience amongst the local community and offer frequent updates about project news and endorsements by stakeholders or public officials. With compelling content and peer-to-peer sharing online, public support for renewable investment in a community will grow rapidly.

Guiding these processes each step of the way is data. A key element of any public affairs campaign is an organized database of all households in a target area surrounding a renewable project. Phone numbers and email addresses should be appended to the database as well as any other demographic information such as age, income, political party, and so forth.

This organization allows for targeted communications to segments of the community if needed to build support in a particular official’s district or amongst undecided residents. Starting with supporters identified at the open house, a vast supporter database will come together as new supporters are identified through Facebook “likes” and website sign ups daily.

The supporter identification process can also be facilitated through telephone identification, in which each household receives a phone call to evaluate individual-level support for the project. A short script asks whether a member of the household supports the project and if so, whether they will take action to get involved to bring the project to fruition. These results are then coded into the master file to create a valuable list of support that can be called upon as needed to demonstrate the favorability of the proposal.

Another critical aspect of building public support is stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders should be introduced to the proposal immediately after it is announced to solicit support. There is great value in third-party sources advocating on behalf of a project.

Their credibility and well-researched positions translate to positive perceptions and oftentimes, earned press coverage, that will become an asset to this effort. By meeting regularly with supporters and stakeholders alike to keep them informed and involved, companies will be able to bring a groundswell of public support out to hearings during the approval process.

The negative voices are often quick to add their opinions both online and in person to public debate surrounding the project, and the result can be costly delays or even project cancellation if they are ignored. However, if supporters are asked to help, they will be eager to write letters to newspapers and attend hearings before permitting officials to preserve the economic vitality of their country. Renewable investment is an important goal, but it takes the proper planning and messaging for these goals to become the realities that islands of the Caribbean need.

Making a Powerful Impact with Solar Proposals in Canada and Beyond

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The article below was Published October 2, 2015 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

Canada is not only filled with vibrant cities but it also houses vast lands of diversified geography. From its running rivers to its windy hilltops, Canada has substantial natural resources that can be harnessed to produce renewable energy. Canada’s energy portfolio is comprised of approximately 16.9 percent renewable sources and of those renewables, solar is one of the fastest growing sustainable sources in Canada.

However, despite the fact that solar power is environmentally friendly, there is still a need for building public support as new projects are announced. In South Frontenac and Rural Kingston, Ontario, public opposition has made it difficult for renewable energy companies, such as Canadian Solar Solutions, to further their proposed solar projects.

The Collins Lake Solar Project is one proposal that aims to answer a call from the province for more solar in certain areas. While solar is barred from the north, Collins Lake Solar is proposed in the east where solar projects are permitted, and the sites have transformer capacity available on rural land. Despite these locational benefits, residents against the solar proposal claim the lands are agricultural and that the projects intrudes upon land that has seen increasing residential development over the past two decades.

At an August meeting, the South Frontenac Council ultimately voted unanimously against the solar project, despite the concessions the solar company proposed to appease community concerns. While the Council’s vote does not defeat the project in its entirety, it moves on to the IESO with a negative recommendation from the local permitting authority and a record of testimony against it. The final decision is anticipated in November.

Even though Canadian Solar Solutions took measures to make community outreach through panels and community open houses, there needed to be a full campaign to identify supporters spoken to throughout these efforts. Opponents reportedly made their presence known through visuals such as signs even at forums in which no vote was scheduled to take place. Therefore, grassroots activism must be a priority from the start to help gain and maintain public support for renewable energy projects, such as Collins Lake Solar, to keep them on track towards development and timely approval.

An Effective Approach

Reach out: It is essential to reach out to the community. Aside from announcing the new project to the press, reaching out to the community is an effective way to begin building tangible support from the start. By sending an informational mailer to residents, companies can encourage residents to learn more by visiting a project website or to get involved in other ways. Recipients of the mailer can also send feedback about a renewable project back to a company on a detachable postcard, allowing companies to obtain phone and email addresses.

Those who return their post cards should be followed up with and invited to a supporter meeting to learn more. Another form of reaching out is through open houses or information sessions about the developmental project. These open houses should not be in a presentation-style format, but small table stations where residents can speak to experts about the project and any questions can easily be answered. At an open house there should be ways for supporters to sign up to get involved and informational resources to help in this endeavor.

Keep in Touch: A database of people who support the project, oppose the project and who are undecided is a priceless tool. This allows for regular updates on the progress of the project, as well as a means for targeting communications to different audiences. It is important to also keep track of any grassroots action that they can take in in terms of written letters or hearings to identify key advocates. Any results obtained through telephone identification, which gauges individual level support by calling specific households, can also be entered and coded into this database for hundreds of supporters identified in only the first few days after announcement.

Ask: It is important to ask the residents if they are in support of your project and if they can help. Too often, residents support a proposal, but the question they are never asked is, “Are you willing to help show support?” Through letter writing, supporters can show local officials that community support exists within their constituency. Letters to the editor, comments to public officials and vocal/written testimony at hearings are all essential to successfully obtain approvals for renewable projects.

Get on Social Media: As supporters organize digitally, they are able to independently share any updates or opinions, reference fact sheets and respond on behalf of the proposal. It is important to have creative content as a digital dialogue facilitator because it will attract more people and make supporters feel more passionate about your project. Opponents will never stop trying to reach out to the public to sway their opinion, so it is important to keep committed supporters engaged to dispel myths and put a face to the supportive voice.

As the solar industry continues to expand the use of renewable energy across the globe, companies must continue to engage communities to achieve project approval. Even as the benefits of solar become more widely understood, the projects proposed in one’s “own backyard” will continue to draw out opponents who cause ripples throughout the approval process. Therefore, well-prepared public affairs campaigns will assist companies in the development of a key advocate base that can take action and win strong approvals, saving companies time and money.

Building Public Support for Renewable Projects Shouldn’t be a ‘Plan B’

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The article below was Published September 2, 2015 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

Despite the broadening energy portfolios of states and nations across the globe, it is still essential for companies proposing individual renewable energy projects to build public support in order to achieve the approvals they need to proceed.

All land use is political, and as a result, renewable projects that generate an interest in theory at the outset are often rejected in practice when it comes time to obtain necessary permits. To prevent costly delays, companies should prioritize mobilizing the often supportive but silent majority to sway elected officials and public opinion in favor of project approval instead of leaving this task as a ‘Plan B.’

Public support helps to prevent not only project delays but also to protect a proposal from cancellation. Brookfield Renewable UK’s eight turbine wind proposal in Larbrax, Scotland is one such wind project that has succumbed to a vocal opposition.

The 20 MW wind farm was voted down by the Dumfries and Galloway Council due to adverse visual impacts despite the long term economic benefits posed for the area.

Similarly, a wind proposal by Volkswind USA is being protested in Nebraska by the Stop Hellam Wind grassroots group, which represents 130 community members who would be affected by the project. The group is advocating for regulations that aim to scale the proposal back, and these regulations will be finalized by the Lancaster County Board next month.

Advocacy by this group for proposed noise limits, setbacks and shadow flicker regulations make it unclear as to whether the project will be able to proceed, despite the fact that over 50 property owners have signed leases for turbine placement.

Controversy aside, support does exist for the proposal by those who describe harvesting wind as an agricultural activity. Farmers looking to lease the land and at least one planning commissioner agree that the County should not prevent this form of agricultural activity by setting the most stringent regulations in Nebraska.

Whether a renewable proposal is defeated in the local approval process or scaled down by crippling regulations, what many projects lack is an organized and consistent grassroots effort to build public support to prevent this fate from occurring. Too often, opponents put companies on the defensive.

However, by educating communities about the benefits of a renewable project from the moment plans are announced publicly, myths will be dispelled and supporters will be willing to speak out on behalf of the project. This proactive effort prevents the loss of millions of dollars in investment and months, or even years, of time—both of which can be extremely costly for most companies to endure.

To build public support, it is important to look at the common themes that often make opponents successful and examine ways to strategically implement grassroots tactics into any renewable campaign aiming to identify, engage and mobilize positive voices in the community.

Personal Interest vs. the Common Good

The first community members to oppose a renewable proposal are often the ones in its immediate vicinity as it is in their personal interest to protest the aesthetic changes that would result. Yet there are many other community members located further away from the project site that are likely to welcome the jobs, revenue and clean energy that the proposal will bring to the community as a whole. The key is to educate those who are most likely to support the proposal through an analysis of geographical or demographic factors. Following this analysis, educate the target populations on the benefits this proposal will bring for the common good of the community through direct mail, press releases, and brochures.

An open house event is one additional way to engage the entire community in a one-on-one format with project experts who manage separate stations on various aspects of the proposal. This event allows opponents, undecideds and supporters to learn more about the project without interruption that can result from a presentation-style event, which can easily be derailed by protesters. These project education efforts often build support amongst undecided community members who ultimately desire the greatest common good that would result from the long term benefits of the proposal.

Data vs. Chaos

It is essential to carry out the task of building public support in a highly organized manner. Companies can create an advantage by following up with those to whom materials are distributed to identify tangible support in a systematic way. The creation of a database allows them to do exactly that.

Once outreach has been made through the various education techniques described previously, it is essential to organize all voters or households into a database that has email addresses, telephone numbers, addresses and various other demographics appended. This way, identification can take place in a systematic way, rather than relying on supporters to take the initiative to come to the company to relay their support.

Telephone identification utilizes a short script to gauge individual level support over the phone, and all supporters, opponents and undecideds can then be coded into the database as such. This enables renewable companies in the later stages of the approvals process to mobilize specific legislative districts to action if, for example, a particular elected official needs encouragement from her/his constituents. This level of precision gives renewable companies the advantage early on in campaigns.

Digital Presence vs. Digital Strategy

Without doubt, residents against a project usually demonstrate a strong social media presence from the start. Their numbers often grow rapidly and the only digital support that exists to counter the negative online presence is in the form of individual supportive comments on news articles about the proposal. However, by drawing upon supporters in the database, and actually meeting with them in a small group setting, supporters can be encouraged to get involved in a renewable company’s digital strategy.

Supporters and/or renewable companies should be encouraged to start their own Facebook page to promote real-time updates and project facts in easy to retain soundbites. Organic growth of support will result as peer-to-peer sharing takes place.

For companies that start their own Facebook page or Twitter account on behalf of the proposal, paid advertisements or “boosting” on these platforms can help spread the word effectively at a low cost. Geo-targeting of these ads allows content to be displayed for social network users within a particular radius of the proposal or with particular interests that make them more likely to support the cause.

A company’s digital strategy is also not complete without a project-specific website. This website should be full of supporter resources to help them become advocacy leaders, engaging others in the community to support. In addition, the website should clearly delineate the project benefits and provide in-depth analyses by third party groups to back up the facts and dispel myths. Finally, the website should have a landing page that allows new viewers to sign up for project updates and get involved in advocacy efforts.

What sets winning renewable energy proposals apart is a group of supporters willing to write to public officials and newspapers in support of the project and also provide comment at public hearings. Even a few supportive voices can make a compelling case and therefore, a big difference. With the aforementioned steps, companies can effectively engage supporters to the point that they are ready and willing to speak in favor of a renewable proposal as needed. As small group meetings continue to take place throughout the campaign, they can take on the form of letter-writing drives or rallies to demonstrate that significant community support exists. Then when it comes time for a public hearing, supporters will be prepared and confident in their ability to speak to the proposal’s merits. Public officials will be more likely to approve projects that display this kind of tangible support, saving companies years of time and millions of dollars in investment.

How to Prevent a Nuclear Project from Failing

The article below was Published August 5, 2015 in Nuclear Engineering International Magazine.

Al Maiorino, outlines the grassroots strategies that are most effective in countering opposition to nuclear projects.

Megaprojects consist of development in a variety of industries, including nuclear, that aim to achieve a particularly ambitious or remarkable scale. Substantial financial investment is usually required to make such projects successful, and they can take years to complete. Due to the tremendous investment involved, megaprojects can also be very risky, as investors and the public may lose a great deal of time and resources if projects do not make it to fruition.

Bent Flyvbjerg - a leading researcher on megaprojects from Oxford University's Said Business School - stated that only one in ten megaprojects, which he defines as projects that cost more than $1 billion and affect more than 1 million people, are able to succeed. In part, Flyvbjerg's comments come in light of South Africa's plan to bring on 9600MW of nuclear capacity by 2030 through the construction of six new nuclear power plants. In a country that generates 85% of its power from coal and experiences frequent power outages, nuclear power offers an opportunity to stabilize power generation and thus, economic development, in a cleaner, more reliable way. However, without a concentrated effort to build public support, this nuclear project, like many others runs the risk of costly delays or even cancellation, just as Flyvbjerg's observed.

South African residents in opposition to the nuclear plan have begun to vocalize their views. Citing concerns of health risks, a high price tag against rising national debt and lengthy development timelines when an immediate solution is needed, many have begun to organise to try to replace the proposal with another solution. Meanwhile, joint projects by Russia and South Africa to educate and encourage "public acceptance of nuclear power" are called for in two memoranda of understanding on nuclear power cooperation that the two countries signed.

The nuclear industry is subject to the spread of misinformation as are many industries when new projects are proposed. Whether the size of a development is for a smaller expansion project or a full on multi-phase megaproject, community education is key as Russian and South African leaders suggest in the memoranda. While mega-projects may be disparaged, communities need to be well informed of the long-term benefits of a new development so that public support can be demonstrated while the project makes its way through the local and federal processes. Otherwise, public or political opposition to mega-projects can sink construction without fair review before it even begins.

Keep your vision strong

Most large-scale projects struggle to maintain continuity of vision and message - especially the megaprojects with all of their complexity. Therefore, it is important to plan, organize, and structure any nuclear project, big or small, to maximise political, stakeholder and citizen engagement throughout the entire approval process.
Use every tool

Successful grassroots organisations have a well thought out plan employed from the moment a project is announced to spread awareness of a proposal and the benefits it will bring to a local, regional or national community. Tools to assist announcement include press releases, press conferences, a stakeholder involvement campaign, volunteer activity, digital advocacy and more!

Establish and maintain a database

The main objective of a database is to manage data in a way that allows for targeted communication and growth in the support base. The database can contain all households in a certain geographic area or just a particular group of likely supporters. Include and continue to collect missing telephone numbers, E-mail addresses, as well as valuable demographic information such as age, income, and political party. With strong data and an updated database, the education and identification of supporters will be more effective from a steady flow of communication.

Craft a website

This task is monumental for megaprojects. An essential function of a project-specific website is to enlist the help of supporters. Identify new supporters through a sign up page that gathers e-mail addresses for regular contact and notices about how to get involved. Launch this website when the project is announced to educate the masses through easily understood and retained information about the project. This site should be crafted in a way that allows supporters and the media to extract "sound-bites" that filter into the press, social media, and stakeholder communications. Digital advocacy is essential to delivering a consistent message, rallying supporters, and keeping them updated on the project's latest news and endorsements.

Enhance your social media presence

Social media exists not only as a rally point for supporters to organise for important calls to action, but it also becomes an important medium for advertising. As a lower-cost option than print advertising that can work for any budget, Facebook allows for specific targeting based on the geolocation, interests, or demographics of social media users. Ads served to the audience that is most likely to support a project are the most effective. Calls to action on social media aim for more than just "Likes" on Facebook. Create a hashtag early in the approval process and spread awareness for use as soon as possible across all platforms. This way decision makers, those who are undecided, and supporters can refer directly to the list of hash-tagged remarks in support of a proposal as a resource.

Vocalize support!

Grassroots support is all about forming relationships between people with a common interest. The message will begin to spread rapidly when companies make the effort to meet in-person with identified supporters in many group settings in various neighborhoods or communities and open lines of communication with stakeholders in the nuclear industry. Ask supporters and stakeholders to write letters to newspapers to show support, and as review hearings and decision-time comes about, ask them to attend the hearings to vocalize their support. Often, supporters are more than willing to speak out in support of proposals that bring jobs, revenue or cleaner energy to their community -- they just have to be asked!

Propelling Pennsylvania Wind Projects Forward through Grassroots Support

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The article below was Published July 3, 2015 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

Pennsylvania, with its many blustery ridge tops, is seen as a prime location for wind farms by wind companies themselves as well as advocates for solutions to climate change.

Across Pennsylvania, the installation of wind farms aims to help meet a goal of state law that requires 18 percent of retail power to be generated by renewable and advanced energy sources to reduce the production of carbon emissions and other gases that contribute to climate concerns.

Despite the fact that wind farms provide environmental benefits, there is still a need to build public support for new projects both in Pennsylvania and beyond. Within the state, Black Creek Township residents have raised concerns over the implementation of 22 new turbines on the Buck Mountain raise.

Given the firm resident opposition that initially met this proposal, it is a great accomplishment on the part of Pattern Development to have successfully achieved project approval. When representatives addressed the Schuylkill County Zoning Board back in 2009, they said the wind farm would not harm the character of the neighborhood, but opponents argued that the turbines could jeopardize threatened or endangered species – particularly the timber rattlesnake.

Presently, the timber rattlesnake is currently listed as a candidate species, which means that it could achieve threated or endangered status. As a result, the Buck Mountain wind project had to successfully educate the community on the project’s benefits, while dispelling myths associated with environmental impacts in order for the proposal to continue moving throughout the approval process.

Grassroots activism has generally been directed at correcting problems, abuses, and issues that a large number of people believe are not being addressed effectively. As such, grassroots outreach is an effective tool to help build public support for wind development and keep projects like Buck Mountain on track for timely approval.

The American democratic system encourages such activism even if at times there are forces at work to discourage it, most notably those who do not want change or who see a specific change as a threat. Any wind strategy that depends on broad grassroots support for its success needs to be based on a sound understanding of how grassroots works and the tactics that are most effective to engage communities every step of the way.

Data is Key:

Managing a supporter database with detailed notes on individuals and their relation to a project can take up valuable and limited resources. However, it is a task of critical importance to any project. The database can contain all households in a community or just a target group of likely supporters. Either way, outreach should aim to educate households on the wind project and proceed to identify which households support, oppose or are undecided. Append telephone numbers, E-mail addresses, as well as valuable demographic information such as age, income, and political party. Through targeted communication of messaging based on an individual’s predisposition for support, the outreach campaign will ultimately be structured like a political-style campaign if this database is kept up to date. Relationships are eventually built with many identified supporters, and this database allows for rapid communication and organized outreach with the advocacy group that will form.

Craft a Project Website:

Creating a grassroots-oriented website on just the wind project at hand is vital to not only ensuring that the project has a presence online, but to also provide community members with access to supporting research about the project when needed. With a “call-to-action” page, supporters will always have access to information about getting involved. Create a sign-up form right on this page to grow the advocacy base and help build an E-mail list to append to the database. Quotes and endorsements from third-party validators as well as fact sheets and sample letters to officials can also be displayed to make this site an effective resource.

Telephone ID:

While polling allows for an extrapolation of community sentiment, it can be expensive for wind companies. In terms of grassroots support, telephone identification is far less expensive but it serves more as a straw poll in that actual individuals in the community are identified who support, oppose, or remain undecided. Once members of your target audience have been introduced to the proposal through at least one method of education, give them a call with a short persuasive script to gauge individual level support.

Get Social Savy!

Social media allows advocacy to reach new heights with constant information sharing and real-time updates. Post regularly to educate the online community about the benefits of your project in short soundbites for easy retention. Break down related research and scientific information relating to the industry to short tweets/posts or present this information as an infographic for visual representation. Digital relationships can be as important as those cultivated in person because the online community possesses a strong voice when engaged as a whole through a project-specific supporter group or hashtag.

Let the Narrative Do the Talking:

With all the digital information social media users are confronted with each day at a rapid pace, content must be compelling to have an effect. Therefore, viewers are more apt to internalize messaging if it is presented in the form of a story they can relate to. An appeal to the emotions through the school children who will benefit from the revenue a wind project will bring, for example, is more apt to grab the attention of viewers than the millions of dollars of revenue promised by the company’s talking points. Real citizens can present their own narratives through social media to detail the reasons why their peers should join in to offer their support too.

Advertise on Social Media:

Paid advertising opportunities on social media can give you direct engagement with many in your target audiences to help advocacy and advertising budgets stretch further. Because advertisements on social media can be served within a particular geolocation or interest category, they attract attention by providing directly relevant information to the viewer. Optimization for page likes can assist with getting an online community’s presence started, or the ads can be optimized for click-throughs to direct traffic to the new project website. Google ads, while not on social media, offer another vehicle to serve content to web users searching relevant terms in the defined project geolocation.

Letters and Hearing Attendance:

The end game for all education, outreach and identification should always be letters to the permitting authority and attendance at hearings for vocal support. To achieve these, invite supporters during telephone identification, on social media, and through other vehicles to supporter meetings to get to know their interest level and provide resources that match their interest. By keeping in contact and using calls-to-action effectively, supporters will be willing to speak out on behalf of the proposal even in situations where residents in opposition may have a strong presence. The key is to begin building grassroots support from the moment a project is announced to cultivate the relationships that elicit narratives of support and help win project approval.

Ensuring Renewable Energy Goals Become a Reality in the Caribbean

The article below was Published July 30, 2015 in Energy Manager Today.

The islands of the Caribbean are not only some of the most popular tourist destinations, but they are also economically and ecologically diverse regions with growing energy needs. The strength of each island’s tourism industry, which comprises a large portion their gross domestic product, is largely supported by the beautiful ecology that attracts visitors to their shores time and time again. However, the power supply across much of the Caribbean is currently generated by expensive and polluting sources, prompting many governments in the region to seek alternative sources of energy as a way to protect the environment that is cherished by visitors and natives alike. By boosting investment in renewable energy, the region can take a two-fold approach to economic development by protecting its ecologically sensitive areas to safeguard tourism, while providing affordable, reliable access to clean energy for its populations.

Countries such as Aruba, Turks and Caicos, Grenada, the British Virgin Islands and St. Lucia have all signed onto an initiative called the “Ten Island Challenge,” which promotes a transition to sustainable energy production in places with vast wind and solar resources. The latest island to sign on, Belize, has signed a memorandum of understanding to achieve 90 percent renewable generation by 2033 and is already at approximately 60 percent renewable through biomass and hydropower. Similarly, Jamaica, home to the English-speaking Caribbean’s largest windfarm, is pursuing a 20 percent increase in sustainable power generation by 2030 separately from the Ten Island Challenge and already reports $200 million in investments that will come online within the next year.

While these countries have signed on to these goals to remedy high electricity prices, decrease carbon emissions and reduce reliance on expensive fuel imports, renewable companies should still be prepared to launch public affairs campaigns to build support for placement of each project’s infrastructure. Communities will need to be educated on the benefits of this transition or else community members will resist new projects due to the aesthetic changes that impact the scenic asset of island life. While a turbine or solar panel may indeed change the scenery, communities can be won over with the proper understanding of the economic and energy stability that will be created for years to come.

A variety of tactics can help renewable companies educate communities on the specific benefits of a proposal. Direct mail and open house events allow for a broad reach with strategic messaging. By sending information right to residents’ mailboxes, an introduction to the renewable project will be made from the start to bring people out to the open house. The community open house event will then provide a venue for residents to speak directly with project experts to ask questions, allowing an opportunity for myths to be dispelled up front. Supporters can also sign up to get involved with advocacy at the open house for mobilization later in the campaign.

Digital advocacy will also be key. As soon as the proposal is announced, a website should be publicized to showcase detailed information about the proposal and provide a long-term venue for supporters to sign up to get involved beyond the open house. Promote a page on Facebook in support of the proposal to build an audience among the local community and offer frequent updates about project news and endorsements by stakeholders or public officials. With compelling content and peer-to-peer sharing online, public support for renewable investment in a community will grow rapidly.

Guiding these processes each step of the way is data. A key element of any public affairs campaign is an organized database of all households in a target area surrounding a renewable project. Phone numbers and email addresses should be appended to the database as well as any other demographic information such as age, income, political party and so forth. This organization allows for targeted communications to segments of the community if needed to build support in a particular official’s district or among undecided residents. Starting with supporters identified at the open house, a vast supporter database will come together as new supporters are identified through Facebook “likes” and website sign-ups daily.

The supporter identification process can also be facilitated through telephone identification, in which each household receives a phone call to evaluate individual-level support for the project. A short script asks whether a member of the household supports the project and, if so, whether they will take action to get involved to bring the project to fruition. These results are then coded into the master file to create a valuable list of support that can be called upon as needed to demonstrate the favorability of the proposal.

Another critical aspect of building public support is stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders should be introduced to the proposal immediately after it is announced to solicit support. There is great value in third-party sources advocating on behalf of a project. Their credibility and well-researched positions translate to positive perceptions and oftentimes, earned press coverage that will become an asset to this effort.

By meeting regularly with supporters and stakeholders alike to keep them informed and involved, companies will be able to bring a groundswell of public support out to hearings during the approval process.

The negative voices are often quick to add their opinions both online and in person to public debate surrounding the project, and the result can be costly delays or even project cancellation if they are ignored. However, if supporters are asked to help, they will be eager to write letters to newspapers and attend hearings before permitting officials to preserve the economic vitality of their country.

Renewable investment is an important goal, but it takes the proper planning and messaging for these goals to become the realities that the islands of the Caribbean need.

Harbouring Potential

The article below was Published June 2015 in The Superyacht Report.

The current fleet of 5,008 yachts on the water is predicted to grow to 6,044 by 2020, according to The Superyacht Intelligence Annual Report 2015. With more yachts on the market and a growing demand for up-to-date facilities and services in destinations worldwide, marinas will need to improve and expand upon their infrastructure to keep demand for yachting tourism high in popular cruising grounds. Al Maiorino, president of public affairs firm Public Strategy Group, reports on how to garner local support for these developments.

Infrastructure development is about a great deal more than just securing investors and property for a new marina. Local communities must understand the benefits of expanding upon a country’s existing infrastructure to help maintain a steady flow of tourists to their shores. This need to educate and engage communities in response to a development proposal in the industry is especially relevant in the Caribbean, where tourism is often the largest contributor to countries’ gross domestic product (GDP). With revenue and employment opportunities up for grabs, destinations must be strategic about informing local residents of what is at stake economically if others expand and upgrade their infrastructure and they do not. These advancements play an important part in attracting visitors and maintaining a healthy economy.

A United Nations (UN) report published in February 2014 analyzed the recreational demand for yachting and marina services as one sector of the Caribbean tourism industry. As part of his research, the report’s author, Willard Phillips, economic affairs officer for the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled a table detailing the distribution of marinas in the Caribbean (right), showing that yachting destinations vary greatly in their infrastructure capacity. St Maarten has grown to accommodate the highest number of marinas and berths with 13 and 1,020 of each, respectively, catering to varying lengths. As a rapidly growing destination in terms of passenger arrivals and cruise ship port infrastructure, this island has a structure that many destinations may look to emulate.

What the UN report ultimately finds is that “income in the source market, airline ticket cost and frequency of hurricanes [are] the three variables most likely to influence a consumer’s decision to yacht in the Caribbean”. As a result, the study recommends targeting an even higher income bracket. However, such an approach may be perceived by community members to only be of benefit to this demographic and not to local inhabitants, despite the positive outcomes a new marina development could bring. Hence, when a luxury megayacht proposal comes to town, local residents feel their natural surroundings and way of life are threatened, rather than secured by the increase in revenue and economic security for tourism as a whole. As a result, careful attention must be given to educating the masses for proposals that cater to the select clientele in the yachting industry.

As Caribbean destinations become more competitive due to tourists’ desires to explore more remote and exotic destinations, infrastructure and tourism products must be upgraded in order for these locations to remain relevant. These upgrades are often accompanied by projects to refresh shore excursions, tours, shopping and dining experiences, roadways, walkways and more. However, the extent and culmination of upgrades can disrupt the status quo – of both yachting infrastructure directly and tourism as a whole indirectly – and communities need to be well informed of the long-term benefits of a new development so that public support can be demonstrated as the project makes its way through the local and federal approval processes. Otherwise, public opposition to projects in the yachting industry, from yacht clubs to marinas, can sink projects before construction even begins.

Initiate Outreach To The Community

Communities must be well informed of the project details for any proposal from the start to prevent the spread of misinformation and to dispel any preconceived notions

of dredging or construction as a threat to the environment. A variety of outreach methods should be used, including both direct mailing and open-house information sessions.

Targeted direct mail allows for the opportunity to highlight the project’s benefits with regards to jobs, revenue and bolstering the tourism industry; direct mail still makes an effective first introduction of the project to the community. When followed by an open-house information session, residents will be able to gain an in-depth understanding of the proposal and any questions or concerns can be addressed directly by the company itself. These events open channels of communication between project experts and residents and allow supporters to sign up to write letters or attend advocacy meetings later on. The key point is to not wait until opposition arises to begin building public support.

Identify And Maintaina Database

It is important to create a database of supportive residents and stakeholders in order to be able to quickly mobilize support when needed. Any email addresses obtained at the open house should be added to an email list database that can provide supporters with rapid updates. Additionally, telephone identification of all households in a target community is an efficient way to identify support. This quick phone call to every household is not intended to be a scientific poll to gauge support, but rather it is an attempt to make an introduction, gauge opinion on an individual level and lay the foundation for a follow-up about advocacy efforts. By coding all households as supportive, undecided or against the proposal, the database becomes a source of information that can be organized in a variety of ways.

An immense amount of data is available and should be harnessed for campaigns

to identify and target the most likely demographic of support. Communications can be targeted to specific political districts, voting households, income levels or a variety of other demographics most likely to help your cause. To further illustrate the magnitude of useful data available, projects in this industry can often benefit from targeting households that have donated to environmental groups, for example, filtering mitigation messaging through the most effective channels. As a whole, this database allows for outreach to be structured like a political-style campaign.

Go Digital

Social media is an important tool that promotes campaign messaging and creative content. In the same way that opponents can quickly mobilize an advocacy base through social media, so too can project supporters. When supporters create their own social media page in favor of the project, it allows an organic growth of the supporter network. Sharing the stories behind why each citizen supports the proposal is an important part of the process because, in the social sphere, people are often more willing to share or believe something a friend shares or posts over top-down messaging from a company. Content that highlights easily digestible sound bites about project facts or reasons of support from community members can spread quickly to gain new support and even generate earned media coverage. Social media sites that are updated regularly allow supporters instant access to information about hearings or new project endorsements. Advertising on social media is also an effective way to reach potential supporters. Geo-targeting ads and highlighting particular interests that would be relevant to likely supporters, such as Facebook ads, is a way to target a custom audience. This venue for advertising will help add ‘likes’ to a social media page or generate clicks for new impressions on a project website. In general, web ads are a more cost-effective way to drive traffic to a project website or landing page than print ads and are a useful tool to help educate the public.

Host Grassroots Supporter Meetings

At the core of any public affairs campaign is the cultivation of relationships with advocates. Some of the best advocates are identified through cold calls made during the telephone identification process and the key here is in the follow-up. All supporters must be invited to small group meetings and should be provided with project fact sheets, letter writing guides and general information about engaging with their public officials in support of the project. This initial meeting should be followed by regular social media engagement among supporters as well as additional meetings immediately prior to hearings to review important messaging.

The community contains a wealth of suitable advocates, each of whom arrives at their supportive opinion from a different perspective. One enthusiastic supporter may be an engineer or environmental expert while another may have been a former regulator. It takes meetings with these people to get to know their own narrative of support to be able to bring all advocates together as a cohesive whole. Once this task is well on its way, the strategic letters to the editor sent, and public officials prepare the decision makers for hearings, the line of opponents waiting to speak will be matched by an eager and informed base of support.

Conclusion

The question all investors and developers in the industry should ask themselves is how to prevent an opposition campaign against their future projects (see side bar on Coral Bay Marina). In a matter of hours or days pages on social media can arise

in opposition to a project, so companies must be prepared to launch public outreach to educate before the first application is even submitted. Supportive letters and hearing testimony can make all the difference in the public perception and the reception of a proposal by public officials. Opponents of projects typically remain steadfast in their beliefs, but with their vocal campaigns, supporters’ opinions fall by the wayside, overshadowed by sheer volume. However, by identifying core advocates early on and with a proactive approach, yachting proposals can maintain support throughout the duration of the permitting process for successful project approval.

Geothermal Project in Bedugul Raises Controversy

The article below was Published June 8, 2015 in Energy Manager Today.

Indonesia is an emerging market that sees its electricity demand increase by about 10 percent per year, and thus the country needs about 6 GW per year in additional generating capacity. Indonesia’s electrification ratio — which is the percentage of Indonesian households that are connected to the nation’s electricity grid — stood at 80.38 percent at the end of 2013, implying that today there are still roughly 50 million Indonesians who lack access to electricity. As Indonesia continues to grow in terms of population and electricity use, the archipelago nation endures high hopes in expanding its geothermal output as a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to coal-fired power plants.

Bali is an island and province of Indonesia blessed with abundant water reserves, vegetation, natural resources and beautiful landscapes. One of the island’s most ubiquitous natural assets is the Bedugul forest area, which provides the island with major sources of water for irrigation. For years, Bali’s frequent blackouts have forced the island’s policymakers to search for alternative sources of power — particularly through geothermal power plants. However, the plan to build a geothermal plant in the mountainous resort area of Bedugal has been strongly opposed by environmental activists and religious groups.

In 1994 Bali Energy, a joint venture between California and a local company, signed an operation contract to develop a geothermal power plant in the Bedugul forest. In 2008, the estimated power production capacity of 175 MW corresponded to about half of the island’s electricity needs, but the project was put on hold due to opposition from local residents. While discussion about restarting this project lingers, action continues to be strongly met by environmental activists, who fear that the construction of this site would inflict irreversible environmental damage. Religious leaders have also objected to the plan, claiming that the Bedugul area and the nearby Batukaru Mountain are sacred points in the island’s divine cosmology. Considered by most Balinese Hindus as a “holy and sacred place,” the pure lakeside area of Bedugul is the consecrated place of Dewi Danu Bratan, a goddess of agriculture who is prayed to by farmers around the island. According to Balinese culture, mountains and forests are highly sacred because they are believed to be sources of life. As a result, environmental activists and religious members of Balism believe that geothermal drilling in the Bedugul area would not only worsen Bail’s water crisis, but it would also damage the sanctity of the area.

Though geothermal power can offer tremendous energy quantities, the governor of Bali has restated his refusal to allow the geothermal project in Bedugul in a statement from his office on May 6, 2015. He not only placed a moratorium on the construction of this location, but he also also reiterated the fact that this project would trespass on protected forest area in a religiously sacred area of Bali. Since the ministry of energy and mineral resources is still waiting for the governor’s approval to build the plant, delays continue to plague this environmental friendly renewable resource. As a result, any permission to now allow the Bedugul geothermal project to resume would require a new resolution and majority approval from the House.

To save time and money, companies must engage with local communities as a means of keeping them informed and showing them support every step of the way.

Get the message out and stay in control

Traditionally, printed marketing was the primary method of conveying a message to consumers. While digital marketing, blogs, social media and targeted e-mail messages have come to the forefront as opposed to top-down messaging techniques, direct mail still exists as an effective means of educating communities and directing residents to project websites to learn more. Through all of these processes, you can effectively educate the community on the details of your geothermal project proposal, encourage activism and keep the public updated on the project’s progress.

Develop an action plan

A mail-in tearoff card from the direct mailer(s) referenced above allows for supporters to return a postcard with contact information, therefore increasing their willingness to attend a hearing or write a letter of support. While direct mailers are a great way to gauge support, telephone identification calls are also a crucial element in gauging support levels, particularly because a persuasive script can direct people to a project website to provide additional information about a project. Creating a website ensures that your project has a presence online, and provides community members with access to information about the project when needed. Sites can range from a single page that states the important details and urges support, or they can be multi-faceted containing detailed renderings and simulations. A successful web site should present a professional image of your geothermal plan. Ideally it should also include some backend solutions that will allow for you to update and maintain your site painlessly, as well as provide space for community members to sign up as supporters on a “call-to-action” page.

Maintain a database

Managing a supporter database can take up valuable and limited resources. However, it is a task of critical importance to any project. Ideally, a database should include telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, as well as valuable demographic information such as age, income and political party. Through targeted communication networks based on an individual’s predisposition for support, the outreach campaign will ultimately be structured like a political-style campaign. With proper organization, messaging can be targeted to only undecided to sway their opinion on particular aspects of the plan.

Get social savvy!

Today we live in the era of the Internet which allows for powerful, accessible and dynamic communication. In fact, statistics show that nearly one in every five minutes spent online is on some social media platform, and this trend is no longer age restrictive. Because social media sites are updated regularly, they have become a quick and easy way to promote campaign messages and build a community throughout the social sphere to build grassroots support. Shareable videos, infographics and other creative content are the key to catching community members’ attention and calling them to action.

Host community meetings

Websites and social media may have their place in an overall marketing strategy, but if all promotion is conducted online, companies risk missing an opportunity to connect face-to-face with prospective supporters and community members. It is the grassroots and grasstops efforts that are essential to reaching the key advocates to write letters of support and provide hearing testimony when the time comes. Community open house events allow stakeholders, supporters, opponents and undecideds to have direct contact with project experts so that they can ask questions on an individual basis at various stages of the project. Ultimately, these events can help ease community members’ concerns and create a positive flow of information without grandstanding and interruptions that can occur at presentation-style events.

Keeping solar projects in good graces

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The article below was Published May 5, 2015 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that 2015 is off to a productive start for the solar industry.

While reports surface of projects emerging from the depths of permitting authorities’ filing cabinets, others are making a reputable case before officials and communities to approve new projects relatively soon after they are introduced.

What is the key to these successful projects that avoid the costly delays brought on by opponents? The answer is effective messaging that educates members of the community and brings them on board in support.

As communities begin to see a greater value in solar, the industry must capitalize on this favorability wisely by identifying supporters and harnessing them into action on the project’s behalf.

Renewable energy generation is here to stay, but it is up to companies to effectively communicate the benefits of solar to the communities in which they seek to build to rally a broad base of support willing to speak up on the project’s behalf.

On April 23, 2015 the San Bernardino County Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit to allow Sunray Energy 2, LLC to construct a 44-megawatt solar photovoltaic energy generation facility.

This project aims to replace an existing concentrating solar power facility in Daggett, California that was damaged by a fire in 1999. The extensive property damage was the result of high temperatures in the heat transfer fluid, which will not be used at the new site.

Once installation begins on the 333-acre property, the new solar project is expected to create seven to ten jobs, limit water usage and generate emission-free energy.

Even though Sunray Energy 2 has its conditional use permit in hand to proceed with this installation, they are still subject to an appeal period that could potentially create waves in an otherwise smooth process.

If opposition groups decide to file the appeal, Sunray Energy 2 would not only incur costly delays and legal fees, but the environmental benefits of this renewable source would also be stalled without further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In order to maintain the momentum of the industry, companies must develop an open dialogue with community members to sway undecided parties and strengthen a solid base of support.

Always Be Proactive

It is essential for the solar industry to inform communities from the start of any proposal to prevent the spread of misinformation and to dispel any preconceived notions of solar projects. Few opponents will reverse their opinions against the project, especially when it comes to direct project abutters, but informing and identifying members of the community who reside further away from the project is key.

The industry can educate entire communities through a variety of outreach methods, including direct mail and open house information sessions. Targeted direct mail affords proposals the opportunity to highlight the project’s benefits with respect to jobs, revenue and clean energy generation. Open house sessions also provide opportunities for direct dialogue between residents and project experts so that questions and concerns can be discussed. Many respondents to general surveys favor solar, but when a proposal crops up in their backyard, the ways the project benefits will outweigh any costs will have to be clearly communicated for a winning campaign.

Data is King

It is important to keep track of supporters, undecideds, and opponents digitally for the most organized and efficient approach to mobilizing support when needed. The database should include telephone numbers and email addresses as well as any other demographic information available such as political party, age, income, etc.. This allows for detailed analysis and reporting on the project based on residents’ predispositions for support. Grassroots tactics are most effective when data can be harnessed for strategic targeting through methods similar to a political-style campaign.

Identify Advocates

This is where most projects struggle. It is easy to disperse information in the connected world we live in, but it becomes difficult to recruit and engage supportive volunteers to write letters to newspapers and officials in support of the project. When hearings come around, these letters along with either written or verbal testimony can make all the difference.

To identify support, engage draw upon the database to call each household in a community with a brief script that measures support and their willingness to help. This is a more cost effective approach than polling and generates real people to begin building relationships with as advocates.

Contact stakeholder groups in the community as well to engage their leadership, which can provide independent analysis of the project benefits to validate campaign messaging. These stakeholders can also be coded into the database for a quick mobilization of support whenever needed.

Get Digital

Social media is a quick and easy way to promote campaign messaging throughout the social sphere. When approvals can drag out from months to years, social media is a great way to avoid “advocate fatigue” with identified supporters.

Keeping them interacting with informative content in between calls to action helps to develop a general response behavior that is valuable to companies. Today, peer-to-peer sharing is a powerful tool, and therefore sharable content will greatly benefit these efforts. With the use of social media growing every day, advertising on these sites is also an effective way to reach targeted groups of potential supporters in a more cost-effective way than traditional full-page print ads.

As the solar industry continues to expand the use of renewable energy across the globe, companies must continue to engage communities to achieve project approval. Even as the benefits of solar become more widely understood, the projects proposed in one’s “own backyard” will continue to draw out opponents who cause ripples throughout the approval process. Therefore, well-prepared public affairs campaigns will assist companies in the development of a key advocate base that take action and win strong approvals.

Drumming up public support

The article below was Published April 3, 2015 in Port Strategy.

Public Strategy Group's Al Maiorino explains the importance of getting early public support for port projects

With over 350 container terminal proposals with estimated completion dates by the end of 2020, significant growth is projected for the cargo shipping industry in the coming years. However, despite this productive outlook, the risk of public opposition causing delays or cancellations for these new facility or expansion projects remains prevalent.

Themes of environmental protection, noise pollution and aesthetic contamination all build into the opponents’ argument, which can cause great disruption for campaigns if specific preparations are not made to counteract opponents’ messaging. As new cargo terminal projects are proposed, developers must make strategic outreach to ensure that public support can be identified and mobilised to convince public officials that these projects will benefit the community.

Currently, Lebanon’s Port of Beirut is engaging in a long term project to transform the port into a transhipment hub in part by filling its fourth basin to create more space for operations and allow for additional container storage at the port. Construction was expected to begin in February, but due to a public protest by members of the community against the project earlier this month, opponents successfully rallied the support of political and religious groups to halt the project and allow the government additional discussion on the issue.

Additionally, opponents have filed a lawsuit against the port authority and Public Works and Transport ministry, claiming that the action of filling in the fourth basin is illegal. They also claim that the action will destroy jobs and have a negative impact on national security. Despite this group’s effective action, the project has the support of some officials, such as tourism minister Michel Pharaon, who supports additional storage space for operations at the port and believes the idea of filling the basin is accepted by many.

The Port of Beirut is just one example that the actions of a small group can easily override the preference of the silent majority. However, this problem is certainly not unique to Lebanon. Cargo shipping projects all over the world are opposed as plans for new or expanded facilities surface. Even in situations where projects have already been formally approved by relevant permitting authorities, opposition groups can raise protests and engage media outlets to halt construction temporarily or permanently, costing companies millions due to the loss of their investment. As entities proceed with their cargo shipping proposals, they should engage communities to build support to ensure positive messaging is spread through a supportive community.

Educate, record, mobilise

Once a proposal is announced, take control of the message to ensure accurate and updated information is circulated to the public. This can be achieved by launching a website, sending direct mail, and posting web advertisements. Arming community members with the facts is the first step to making sure they are prepared to advocate for your cause. To sway undecided members of the community, host an open house at which they can engage with project experts and ask questions on an individual basis.

Outreach should be tracked in a supporter database once identification of supporters begins. Identification can be conducted through a short persuasive telephone call to households after sending out direct mailers to educate the community on project benefits. All supporters, undecideds and opponents should be recorded through database coding for organised and efficient follow up.

The difference between successful campaigns and those that suffer defeat is often a contingency of loyal supporters willing to speak at hearings and write letters of support to public officials and newspapers. Community support must be heard from the outset and maintained so that opponents are not the only voices sharing their opinions. Following successful identification, grassroots mobilisation is one factor that entities proposing cargo projects cannot overlook.

Opposition to the Barro Blanco project in Panama halts construction

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The article below was Published April 3, 2015 in Renewable Energy Magazine.

Due to the opposition from local residents and alleged environmental violations, construction of a hydroelectric dam in Panama was halted in February 2015 by the Panamanian government. The $225 million hydroelectric project was expected to create at least 28 MW of energy to eventually reduce CO2 emissions, along with a significant number of new jobs and revenue.

This dam, known as the Barro Blanco project, began construction in 2008 on the Tabasara River, west of Panama City. By February, project construction was approximately 95 percent complete. However, with Panama’s Environmental Agency (ANAM) suspicion of violations of the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA), an investigation has stopped construction, causing public opposition to resurface and costly delays in the construction process.

Since construction commenced, the project’s main opposition group has been the neighboring Indigenous community, the Ngäbe Buglé. This group’s main concern is the effect of the project on their lands since the Tabasara River, where construction is taking place, is a source of food upon which they rely.

They believe that when the flowing river gets turned into a stagnant lake, it will greatly affect the surrounding environment and biodiversity. Though the site of the dam is not located on their land, they feel that the Barro Blanco dam’s reservoir will flood 13 acres of their lands and villages, putting schools and religious, cultural, and archaeological sites in their traditional territory at risk. As a result, the Ngäbe Buglé believe members of their community living along the river will be forced to relocate, negatively impacting 2,000 families in some way.

Though from the beginning the Ngäbe Buglé have vocally opposed the project, the ANAM’s ongoing environmental investigation continues to spur input local stakeholders and national officials. The Movimiento 10 de abril (M-10) is a local environmental and human rights organization that feels the Ngäbe Buglé were never consulted on the dam proposal’s impacts from the outset, despite the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires the consultation and consent of indigenous populations.

As a result, the Panamanian government states that they want to hold negotiations to address the conflict that continues to surround this project. While the Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela, is optimistic that the negotiations will result in a solution, Toribio García, the president of the Regional Congress of the Traditional Ngäbe Buglé, says that the Ngäbe Buglé remain steadfast in their opposition and the issue remains unnegotiable.

With the creation of any new hydroelectric project, special interest groups and local communities will always play a part in the success or failure of the project. Because the Barro Blanco project did not receive vocal public support to mitigate the voices of those against the project, delays continue to plague this important renewable project. To save time and money, companies need to engage the local communities by keeping them informed of the approval process and how to show support every step of the way.

Stay in control of the message

From the moment that a project is announced, community outreach should be planned to introduce strategic messaging and educate the community on the details of the hydroelectric project proposal. Targeted direct mail affords proposals the opportunity to highlight the project’s benefits.

It is important to make sure that the first introduction of the project to the community comes from project experts directly. If the public is not updated on project’s progress, it is likely that opposition groups will gain a considerable head start on efforts to halt the development process. By meeting with supporters and encouraging their activism, your company will develop a solid base of support that can be mobilized as needed to show support before community leaders and public officials.

Present a Call to Action

A project website is an important tool to ensure that community members have access to information about the project whenever they need to make reference. Whether just viewing the site upon the project’s initial announcement or referring to the site while writing a letter of support, a project website is an important investment in messaging.

Sites can range from a single page that states the important details and urges support, or they can be multi-faceted containing detailed renderings and simulations. Under any budget, a website is an essential tool to drive recognition and support. When provided space to sign up as a supporter and provide contact information, viewers will join your advocacy network and expand your database for inclusion in grassroots mobilization.

Maintain a database

It is important to keep track of supporters, undecideds, and opponents digitally for the most organized and efficient approach to mobilizing support when needed. The database should include telephone numbers and email addresses as well as any other demographic information available such as political party, age, income, etc.. This allows for supporters to receive targeted communications on the project based on their predisposition for support. With this database, the outreach campaign can be structured like a political-style campaign.

Get social savvy!

Social media is a quick and easy way to promote campaign messages throughout the social sphere. Social media sites are updated regularly to allow supports instant access to any new information that can be used to support a project’s cause and create organic grassroots growth in the supporter base. With the use of social media growing every day, advertising on these sites is an effective way to reach potential supporters and is more cost effective than the traditional full-page print ads in the newspaper.

Host an open house series

It is essential that community members and stakeholders receive as much information on the hydroelectric project as possible so that they have a chance to ask questions and develop informed opinions on the project. Open House events allow supporters, opponents, and undecideds to have direct contact with the project experts so that they can ask questions on an individual basis at various stages of the project. The alternate approach of a presentation-style event often allows for grandstanding and interruptions, which fuel the negativity from the outset. People who will be affected by the project will always have questions that will change over time. Open house events can help ease community members’ concerns and create a positive flow of information without myths that risk sinking the project before it starts.

Local Opposition Affects Approved Biofuel Plant

The article below was Published March 3, 2015 in Environmental Leader.

In 2014, the United States Departments of the Navy, Energy and Agriculture awarded a $70 million grant to Red Rock Biofuels for the design, construction, commissioning and performance testing of a new biofuel refinery. The biorefinery is planned for Lakeview, Oregon, close to the Fremont Nation Forest and the intersecting state lines of Oregon, Nevada, and California. This new renewable project aims to expand military fuel sources, improve reliability of the nation’s fuel supply and prevent supply disruption to reinforce the nation’s energy security. Despite these benefits that bring additional employment and revenue benefits for the local community of Lakeview, NIMBY, or “not in my backyard,” opponents to biofuel refineries across the United States run fierce opposition campaigns that threaten project completion. These campaigns can often result in project delays or even cancellation all together, and despite a properly zoned site.

Two Lake County Commissioners, Brad Winters and Ken Kestner, support the biofuel project and believe that when completed, the project will improve Lakeview’s air quality by creating healthier forests and preventing forest fires. Additionally, Oregon Business wrote an economic report stating that the biofuel plant would create up to “25 direct and 79 to 109 indirect and induced jobs,” resulting in an increase in labor income. However, Commissioner Winters acknowledged the myths promoted by the opposition that take hold by noting that those opposed to the creation of the biorefinery are not basing their concerns and objections on factual information. Winters emphasized the importance of community members’ attendance at review workshops and hearings in order to become more informed as state and federal agencies evaluate the proposal as a prerequisite for completion.

Despite a successful rezone of the proposed site by the Lake County Planning Board, opponents remain focused on keeping the proposal out of their community. They fear that transporting these biofuels through the Lake County railroad from Lakeview to Alturas could possibly result in derailments with damaging effects on the community. The opposition is highly organized, holding meetings to strategize and planning petition drives to re-open the process for public comment before the County Commissioners. As is the case with some projects, the opposition group is also instigating a recall drive against Lake County Commissioners and Lakeview Town Council members, showing that all land use truly is political in nature.

Meanwhile, supporters are hoping that this project will receive the necessary approvals according to current plans so construction can begin in summer or fall of 2015 for operations to commence by 2016. Just as the opponents have utilized grassroots tactics to add to their numbers, so too much supporters. To save time and money, companies must engage communities and stakeholders throughout the entire permitting process to ensure that community members are informed and engaged every step. By identifying and mobilizing members of what is often the silent majority, public support can be built throughout Lake County for a quick and successful project approval.

Project Announcement

From the moment a project is announced, community outreach should be planned to introduce strategic messaging and educate the community on the details of the biofuel proposal. Targeted direct mail affords proposals the opportunity to highlight the project’s benefits with respect to jobs, revenue and clean energy generation. When followed closely by telephone identification, residents will express their level of support for the project in a way that allows biofuel companies to follow up with supporters after this survey to build a rapport. The key point is never wait until opposition arises to initiate a campaign to build public support.

Develop an Updated Database

As supporters, undecideds and opponents are identified through digital and traditional vehicles of outreach, it is critical to code them into an organized resident database. By coding for political affiliation, district, income, political donations and any other demographics, this database allows for outreach to be structured like a political-style campaign. Quite often pointing out holes in the opposition group’s evidence only makes them advocate harder for their own cause, but undecided residents are far more likely to give thoughtful consideration to new data. Therefore, with an organized database, these undecided residents can be targeted with uniquely structured mailings and communications to build support in a more cost-effective manner.

Digital Advocacy

Supporters are probably already advocating for your cause on social media even if they are not doing so as a unified group. Capitalizing on this positive activity is essential. Hold supporter meetings regularly to unite supporters and urge the creation of a supporter-led Facebook group or Twitter account to keep all supporters informed of upcoming hearings and project developments. Community members are more likely to respond to a call to action that is supported by their peers than one coming directly from a business. Advocacy on social media quantifies support in the community, but even more importantly with access to quality comments, public officials and news outlets can gain insights to qualitative community sentiment as the reasons for support are shared among advocates.

Hearing Attendance

Opponents are great at turning out in large numbers for hearings. Reactive campaigns often are at a disadvantage from a prior hearing at which a few hundred opponents showed up with buttons and signs against a proposal. However, by building public support at the outset, biofuel companies will have the peace of mind knowing supporters will be informed and willing to speak on the project’s behalf at public hearings. Letter writing to newspapers and public officials will prime the audience of both the community at large and public officials as hearings approach. These steps are necessary for any renewable energy project’s speedy approval in order to demonstrate support before public officials in a tangible way.
Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc., in 1995. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American studies from the University of Connecticut.

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Offshore Wind Farms Face Public Opposition in Scotland

The article below was Published February 3, 2015 in Environmental Leader.

Renewable energy in Scotland received a positive boost in October 2014 when Scottish Ministers approved plans for four offshore wind farms proposed by Scottish Renewables. The four projects, called Neart Na Geoithe, Inch Cape, Seagreen Alpha and Seagreen Bravo, are planned to be positioned east of the Fife Ness coastline and off the Angus coastline. Ultimately, these projects will generate enough energy to power 1.4 million homes, increasing the share of clean reliable energy included in Scotland’s energy portfolio.

Given the staunch NIMBY, or “Not in My Backyard,” opposition that exists in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom, it is a great accomplishment on the part of Scottish Renewables to have successfully achieved project approval. Despite the strict conditions that Scottish Ministers implemented on the projects at that time, Scottish Renewables was able to secure the support of some environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth Scotland and WWF Scotland, due partly to these groups’ belief that climate change is a significant threat that must be addressed sooner rather than later. However, other environmental groups do not consider the Scottish Ministers’ conditions, which sought to limit the range of potential impact to birds and other environmental considerations, to be strong enough to protect wildlife. This disconnect in terms of the perceived costs versus the benefits of the offshore projects is now causing Scottish Renewables to divert attention to the legal challenge filed by Wildlife Conservation Charity and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is known for taking a stand in support of nature and wildlife on behalf of their members and the general public, sometimes even at the expense of renewable projects. RSPB’s goal is to make sure that the environment and wildlife are “properly safeguarded” for the future, with the pledge that they will continue to “support the development of carefully sited and designed renewables, including offshore wind. However, individual developments must be sited to avoid significant harm.” Although RSPB supports the concept of offshore wind, members fear that the Scottish Renewables projects that have already been approved remain as a threat to Scotland’s marine environment and seabird colonies. Many who protest offshore wind projects share similar beliefs, thus causing companies to refine their plans or cancel them all together in search of a less controversial site.

Each of Scottish Renewables’s offshore wind farms took anywhere between one and two years to assess, and now with an organized opposition group headed to court, it looks like it will be a while before progress can commence. This delay wastes valuable time and resources for Scottish Renewables and temporarily (and potentially permanently) forfeits the many jobs supported by supply chains where offshore wind flourishes.

Despite the conditions set by the Scottish Ministers to ensure that protection of the environment, opponents are able to still cause delays for the already approved project. Elected officials represent the will of the people and yet special interest groups that oppose the project still lay a heavy hand in the ultimate success or failure of offshore wind proposals. To save time and money, companies must engage communities and stakeholders throughout the entire permitting process to ensure that community members are informed and engaged every step of the way.

Initiate Outreach to the Community

It is critically important for the offshore wind industry to inform communities from the start of any proposal to prevent the spread of misinformation and to dispel any preconceived notions of offshore wind as a threat to wildlife. The industry can educate the communities by using a variety of outreach methods. These outreach methods can include direct mailing and open house information sessions. Targeted direct mail affords proposals the opportunity to highlight the project’s benefits with respect to jobs, revenue and clean energy generation. Open house sessions also provide channels of open communication between residents and project experts where questions and concerns can be discussed. By proactively educating the community on the proposal, any questions or concerns residents may have can be addressed directly by the company itself. The key point is – don’t wait until opposition arises to build public support.

Maintain a Database

It is important that a database of supporters and stakeholders is created in order to quickly mobilize support when needed. Append any email addresses captured through identification methods to the database to build an email list that can provide supporters with updates. Dialing all households in this database allows for telephone identification, which utilizes a short script to identify additional supporters, opponents and undecideds in the community. Once telephone identification respondents are coded, communications can be targeted to rapidly engage supporters and persuade undecideds. By coding for political affiliation, district, income and any other demographics, this database allows for outreach to be structured like a political-style campaign.

Get Digital

Social media is an important tool that allows for the proliferation of creative content that promotes campaign messaging throughout the social sphere. Content that highlights easily digestible sound bites about project facts or narrative reasons of support from community members can spread quickly to build new support and even generate earned media coverage. Social media sites that are updated regularly allow supporters instant access to information that can be used to support a project’s cause and create organic grassroots growth in the supporter base.

Advertising on social media is an effective way to reach potential supporters. By geo-targeting ads and highlighting particular interests that would be relevant to likely supporters, Facebook Ads are a way to target a custom audience. This venue for advertising will help add “likes” to a social media page or generate clicks for new impressions on a project website.

Host Grassroots Supporter Meetings

Finally, supporters should be guided through in-person group meetings for the purpose of initiating letter writing drives and crafting hearing testimony. Without a coalition of supportive community members and stakeholders to speak to the benefits of the project at hearings and in the news, public officials will only hear the opposition’s side. Quality letters and testimony in support make all the difference when a vote comes about, making it critical to meet with supporters and provide any resources they need for the most effective drives.

Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc., in 1995. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American studies from the University of Connecticut.

Why CSR Often Isn't Enough to Gain Project Approval

The article below was Published February 2, 2015 in ACC Live.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a necessity for companies throughout the planning process for many projects, especially in the mining and energy fields. Companies seek to gain public approval for projects by including CSR benefits for the immediate community affected by the project. CSR benefits often range from community engagement strategies, such as increased employment opportunities and local involvement of small business suppliers, to major activities, such as the provision of scholarships, the building of roads, the relocation of households, etc. These benefits represent an opportunity for companies to both help raise their sustained involvement in an immediate community directly affected by a project and to positively influence stakeholders to support a project for a successful approval process.

CSR practices point companies towards maintaining strength over the long term by assuming the social responsibilities that come with large-scale projects. In the modern global climate, it has become essential for companies to engage immediate communities with CSR practices by encouraging the involvement of local investors and securing sustainable development for communities, all in an effort to win support for projects from local residents. However, CSR does not always equate to an instant positive reaction from communities. Globalization has caused these large-scale projects to garner broad audiences, requiring widespread public affairs campaigns to build support for the project and promote the resulting opportunities to communities beyond just the immediate local population. Though CSR is essential in many types of large-scale projects, it often neglects audiences and stakeholders in a broader sense at the state, regional, national and international levels.

While some residents in the immediate community may be satisfied with what companies are offering through CSR targeted specifically at their needs, companies continue to face resistance from local, state and national-level interests. Interest groups continuously become invested as stakeholders in large-scale projects, regardless of their proximity to the project. These groups might include environmental activist groups, human rights advocates and state and national lawmakers, amongst others. All communities need to be informed of a project and its benefits in order for a project to be viewed favorably enough to gain timely approval. For the successful transmission of a project’s facts and benefits to the community, any CSR effort must be accompanied by a strategic public affairs campaign to ensure the whole audience understands the potential that a project brings for advancement.

A public affairs campaign, coupled with CSR, is the winning strategy for difficult projects. Regional, state and even national campaigns in support of these projects, with advertising, social media and political campaign-style techniques are needed to build support from within and outside communities. The more citizens lean against a project, the more likely elected leaders will be to simply follow the perceived will of the people, thereby opposing the development despite a silent majority of support that may exist. There have been many areas of the globe that have seen CSR or planned CSR on projects, only to see projects defeated or moratoriums placed to prevent development. From shale gas moratoriums in Germany, Quebec, New Brunswick and New York State to iron ore mining bans in Goa, to coal seam gas banning in Queensland, Australia, projects have been derailed due to opposition, despite in many cases, strong CSR plans in place. Winning the issue locally often is not enough to show support to regional and even national elected leaders, who are often either the same people voting on a project or else they are the individuals who appointed the voting official.

Individual’s backyards are expanding to a regional, national, and even global scale. Because of this global view, more individuals in a widespread community are likely to become invested in a project’s outcome. Public affairs campaigns increase the proliferation of information to benefit the project at a grassroots level and beyond. This grassroots approach to gaining support for projects that seek to persuade both locals in the immediate community and those in the non-local, larger groups are more likely to gain support amongst stakeholders and quickly gain approval more efficiently. CSR alone is not public affairs. Rather, CSR can become an important part of a public affairs campaign to gain support for projects if interwoven into outreach. Through the use of proven public affairs campaign tactics, such as telephone identification calls, direct mailers and social media, companies can effectively spread the benefits and importance of a project, and thus gain both the immediate and larger communities’ support. When the backyard of an individual consists of more than just the immediate surroundings, companies need to take into account the influence that these larger groups have getting projects approved in a timely manner.