Is “divide and conquer” strategy working against renewable energy?

The Saint ReportEnergy, Environmental Planning, NIMBY, saintblog, Wind PowerLeave a Comment

By Jay Vincent,
Senior Vice President, Energy, The Saint Consulting Group

oppose_windSome say renewable generation will only go so far as new transmission in this country.  Well, climate change policy won’t go very far without project implementation.  Have opponents of a cleaner, greener energy policy found the wedge that they’ve been looking for?

A common political tactic employed in campaigns is to divide coalitions or constituencies that are typically united in the hopes of negating the power they have to get legislation passed or defeated and split votes for candidates.  Given the political nature of highly debated land use projects, opponents of development projects in town utilize the tactic to fractionalize communities and neighborhoods in hopes of diffusing support that might speak with one voice to local elected officials.  It can be highly effective in defeating a project.  Elected officials can be hesitant to make tough decisions when they have one important constituency battling another one.  Remaining neutral until a critical voting mass develops is politically much safer.

Is this strategy working against wind energy projects?  Are strong proponents of climate change on the macro level staring down local wind projects out on the best breezeways available in this country?  Fresh off reading a new study about “energy sprawl” by the Nature Conservancy and the impact various climate change policy schemes could have on land use, I’ve noticed more instances where the strongest opponents of wind projects and resulting new transmission lines might also be groups clamoring for climate change legislation on Capitol Hill.  After all, many claim global warming is acutely impacting wildlife habitats and will even more so if not tamed by altered human behavior and sound energy policy.

The prevalence of split ranks is pronounced in western areas of the country where projects incorporate a significant amount of federal property.  Pursuing these projects requires developers to seek rights of way from agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and navigate the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) public input process.  The steps in the process provide an open forum for opposition with much of it coming from wildlife enthusiasts and advocates, preservationists and environmentalists who are just as emotionally charged in favor of a greener national energy policy (if you don’t believe me, take a read through some of the public comments submitted as part of the environmental impact statement for wind farm or transmission line).

The Denver Business Journal points out that it’s a mistake to assume there is universal support for alternative energy resouces from environmentalists.

I’ve seen multiple renewable projects where the first order of business in mobilizing the grassroots to support a project is to get your hands on a list of climate change advocates, environmentalists and greenies.  In some cases, identifying and organizing those supporters has resulted in enough political power to counter the NIMBY factor that customarily arises on those projects.

That is why stakeholder mapping is so important in the assessment and ongoing phases of a development project, to discover all of the affected groups that classify themselves as impacted parties (i.e. landowners, school boards, taxpayer organizations, and not just direct abutters) and determine what support and opponent coalitions can feasibly be constructed.  And, it fleshes out whether your assumptions about the local community, interest groups and other stakeholders are accurate, based on the last project developed or affiliation with one particular movement, advocacy effort or philosophy.

Jay Vincent is senior vice president for energy, The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 312.970.5770 Ext: 7502

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