2012 Energy Sector Summary: Opposition Intensity Levels Rising

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By Jay Vincent, The Saint Consulting Group

The most recent Saint Index results show that 55% of Americans would oppose a new power plant if proposed in their community.  That number is down significantly from the 75% opposing in 2007.  Yet, dwindling opposition does not necessarily mean an easier permitting environment or less activism from opponents.  In fact, the opposite may be true.

Since 2007, the number of Americans “actively opposing” power plants (taking some sort of action against a project like signing a petition or writing a letter to a decision maker) has risen with nearly one in five opponents taking some sort of political action last year.  This dovetails with media reports of nearly every new proposed power plant and in some cases renewable plants like wind farms being opposed by community groups comprised of surely local and even regional or national NGO’s like Greenpeace or the Sierra Club.

Any analyst will tell you that high levels of political intensity for a community group are a precursor to their victory, especially in an unstable political environment like a narrowly held majority on a city council or county board.  While not a guarantee of victory though, high levels of intensity must be present because community groups are rarely just handed wins when opposing land development projects.

So, as I look out across the active disputes regarding projects ranging from natural gas development to compressor stations or pipelines, I see opposition intensity levels rising.  There may be fewer people joining the fight, but those involved are the most active and in many cases the most sophisticated.   Along with that sophistication comes additional risk for developers, especially those developing projects where the decision makers may be less sophisticated or prepared than the opposition.

I see risk increasing further as major environmental and business interests fund national opposition campaigns to coal, wind energy extensions, refinery expansions, pipelines and any other similar energy activities.  There is surely a competitive battle taking place as proven in recent reports of developers using third party advocates to carry their water in the public debate taking place.  Undoubtedly there will be some sort of spillover effect as intensity may well exacerbate the unstable permitting environment.

As a final note, it seems from the most recent Saint Index that as opposition decreases the level of intensity increases.  This inverse relationship may well tell us something very important about the viability of successfully navigating the permitting process in 2012.  Perhaps the next iteration of the Saint Index will discover it.

The 2012 Saint Index has yet to be fielded, if you have any suggestions for this year, feel free to reach out soon to vincent@tscg.biz.  We might be able to add your question to this year’s survey.

Jay Vincent is senior vice president for energy for The Saint Consulting Group, email vincent@tscg.biz

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