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Tidal Power Not Immune to Public Opposition

March 4, 2014 By Al Maiorino

Al Maiorino

More and more companies are realizing that the prioritization of safe, reliable energy methods is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By using the Earth’s natural, predictable energy from tidal power, we can generate reliable electricity while conserving other resources. However, some environmental groups oppose new tidal projects due to fear that the turbines could impact the bay environment in a negative way instead of generating a net-positive environmental gain. Without sufficient preparation in terms of community education and citizen outreach, tidal power companies can lose control of their messaging to opposition groups who seek to delay or even cancel proposals all together.

Even the best of proposals can be hindered by companies that are unprepared for this likely public opposition. Despite the benefits large-scale power projects will provide if built, a smart public affairs plan must be implemented to avoid the risk of opponents effectively defeating your campaign. Such strategic planning was lacking in the Kaipara Harbour tidal turbine project, and as a result, this project was delayed and eventually cancelled all together when the local Maori rallied to gather the public’s attention and successfully defeated the turbine project. Despite being initially approved, plans to fully develop the Kaipara Tidal Power Station have been halted and the project put on hold.

To strategically combat opposition to tidal power projects, it is important to begin outreach as soon as a project is first announced to the public. By employing strategic tactics ahead of time to increase public awareness, companies can successfully convey the benefits of tidal power to create an effective advocacy network of supporters to engage in grassroots efforts.

Don’t let the opposition define you – educate residents as soon as your project takes shape

By detailing the project’s long term objectives and clearly establishing the benefits as early as the initial announcement, supporters will be easier to recruit. If implemented directly following project announcement, direct mail coupled with telephone identification calls that utilize a short and persuasive script are the best way to recruit supporters. A database should also be created that can be organized by demographics or political jurisdiction to ensure a data-informed campaign that can target specific legislators as needed. These tactics should be employed very early on in order to assure the public that tidal power companies have the community’s best interests in mind.

Create close relationships & let people know how to best help you

Too often, the question of “Are you willing to help” is never even asked! Once supporters are identified, reach out to personally ask for participation in the campaign. Establishing a strong relationship will assure supporters that you have their best interests in mind and increase the likelihood that they will want to help you. Supporters can help by writing letters to newspaper and attending important public hearings to voice their opinions. Furthermore, hosting an open house where citizens can ask questions is a great way to ease the public’s concerns.  Directly engaging in two-way dialogue will impress those who are still undecided given the level of effort to seek community input demonstrated through this effort. Never underestimate the influence of one individual’s aid as often sheer numbers of support are less important than the strength of the qualitative relationships that key advocates build through direct and meaningful engagement with public officials.

Harnessing the power of key stakeholders

Local business owners and community leaders can be great allies if they are included in outreach efforts. By keeping these community influentials engaged, they will be more willing to write letters or directly endorse the project if the benefits align with their goals and objectives. Forming advocacy groups and encouraging organizations’ members to actively play a role will further assist one’s outreach tactics and ensure a successful campaign.

Stay updated throughout the project

Even if you began your strategy early, it’s crucial to follow up with community members until the very end of the project. Keep in touch with your supporters through periodic emails or letters regarding updates in the planning and implementation stages. Take advantage of social media by using the ability to “share” posts and content to quickly capture people’s attention and build support. Social media can also be utilized by sharing creative content, such as videos of supporters expressing their desire to bring tidal power to the community. Additionally, Twitter and Facebook updates can efficiently notify supporters of the next public hearing or offer new information on ways they can assist the proposal. Shared content is often viewed as a trustworthy source of information among peers as people are more inclined to process and share their friends’ narrative support for a proposal than top-down communication by companies.

The key to countering the opposition is to begin early. Simply announcing the project isn’t enough; one must also develop and sustain support through every stage of the process, from the initial announcement to the project’s full completion.

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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