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Renewable Energy Projects Constantly Battle Opposition

July 3, 2013 By Al Maiorino

Al Maiorino

Wave power is being talked about more and more recently, as a way to harness energy from the ocean’s waves by using a large buoy-like structure below and above the water’s surface. This is a renewable energy tactic that has been opposed by different environmental groups, community leaders, and the general public for various reasons. Even though it is a tremendous new way to produce energy, it has not had a fair chance yet to show its full capabilities, because of the opposition that most renewable energy projects have to battle.

In Florence, Oregon, a wave energy project consisting of ten floating steel structures off its territorial coast was cancelled after a battle against a local opposition group. This project would have reduced fossil fuels, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as produced energy for the people of the area through the ocean’s waves. The proposed project was shut down, however, after an opposition group complained it would jeopardize the recreation in the ocean, as well as public safety, and the quality of the environment.

A company in Mendocino County, California, also had to face this type of opposition recently, and in the end their project was shut down, as well. One hundred and fifty to 680 wave energy converters were due to be placed off the coast of Mendocino County in order to harness energy from the ocean. This project was opposed, and when the company did not use the strongest tactics to counter the opposition group, they lost the battle, and the project was ultimately cancelled.

These are strictly examples of cancelled wave energy projects, which are only a fragment of renewable energy projects that consistently have opposition. In order to battle any type of opposition group, the following steps should be taken to make sure the project gets completed:

  • Educate first, then you can identify. Don’t try to identify supporters of your project until after a fair amount of education. For one, you will have a lot more supporters if you disseminate facts for the project first, thus maximizing your spending.
  • Identify supporters and code them into a database. Whether it is through direct mail, radio, phone calls or e-mail, having lists of supporters or undecided residents lying around on paper doesn’t do your campaign any good. Also, by getting your supporters into a database, you can then separate them by town, county and legislative district for effective grassroots lobbying.
  • Do not focus just on third-party groups for support. Third-party groups are critical for your efforts, but sometimes a few dozen “regular citizens” showing up to hearings and meetings can do your project a lot of good.
  • Do not rely just on e-mail. Believe it or not, a fair percentage of people are still not on the Internet. Many of these are of an older demographic, who are often more pro-development than not. Running ads with a website to contact is great, but always throw a toll-free number in there for non-Internet users to contact you.
  • Use social media. Social media is one of the best ways to begin an educational PR campaign. Various social websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others provide an excellent two-way channel of communication. Not only can such media outlets educate audiences, they also give the public a chance to respond, comment and ask questions. The ability to receive instant feedback is a serious advantage of a social media campaign. Communicating the goals of renewable energy in basic terms will help you bridge that gap with the public.

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

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.



One comment on “Renewable Energy Projects Constantly Battle Opposition

  1. Mr. Maiorino stakeholder engagement advice to wave energy project developers is sound; however he chose two examples of wave energy projects that reflect more upon the unpreparedness of the project developers than it does upon the ferocity of local stakeholder opposition.

    The first example in Florence, Oregon was a project promoted by an Australian wave energy device manufacturer, Oceanlinx, Ltd. Oceanlinx has one of the better wave energy converter designs, but was naïve to think that a first-of-a-kind project that would overlap with existing uses of the ocean in that area could be developed by remote control from Sydney. There was no record of public outreach in the project area, even though the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requires extensive stakeholder outreach as a condition of the permit that they issued to Oceanlinx. The local opposition group was Surfrider Foundation, which represents ocean recreational users, and was probably frustrated by the lack of outreach that Oceanlinx performed. Surfrider, by the way has been very active in participating in Oregon’s Territorial Sea Plan which specifically addresses where the best places are for wave energy farms. They are supportive of well planned and executed wave energy projects that include a dedicated and inclusionary stakeholder outreach program.

    The second example in Mendocino County was a wave energy project promoted by GreenWave Energy Solutions, LLC which was never really engaged with the project development requirements in the area. Their management was made up of real estate development executives and a California State Senator who is now running for Congress. Unlike Oceanlinx, GreenWave has never worked in marine projects, energy or otherwise, and has never demonstrated that they have the know-how or resources necessary to develop a first-of-a-kind wave energy project. FERC cancelled GreenWave’s original permit in Mendocino because of a lack of progress in project development and so when they merely refilled with FERC for the same project in the same location with no assurances that things would be different, FERC rejected their application for a new permit. FERC also noted in their denial: “Many intervenors are concerned that GreenWave lacks genuine intent and resources to develop the proposed project and may instead be engaged in site banking. Intervenors also expressed concern that construction and operation of the project would adversely impact marine species and associated habitat, the local fishing and tourism industries, recreational and visual resources, and public safety. Because Commission staff is denying this application, these comments are moot.”

    Could these wave energy projects have met less opposition from stakeholders had they adhered to Maiorino’s advice? Probably, but these two projects were fatally flawed in their execution and would have failed even with robust support from stakeholders.

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