By Jay Vincent,
Senior Vice President, Energy, The Saint Consulting Group
In a recent Boing Boing blog post on Re-thinking NIMBY, freelance j0urnalist Maggie Koerth-Baker reflected on why wind power could lead to new ways of defining (and dealing with) public naysaying. As one who follows the effects of NIMBY all day, there are some real solid points Maggie makes in her “re-thinking NIMBY” post. There is no question that wind farm developers need to employ all means of community outreach to balance some of the entrenched national groups and detractors that oppose wind turbines.
Perhaps the most salient point made is the attempts by those who have already driven a stake in the ground on the wind energy issue utilizing particular local fights to feed their positions and activism. In most of the cases we’ve worked on, that comes down to special interest groups coming to town with fresh talking points and the ability to write a check to keep the opposition armed with yard signs, attorneys and professional planners.
Another solid observation is the reliance upon polls to tell you the whole story. As political professionals, we field polls all the time for clients. However, we don’t use them as a crutch to serve as the necessary research to tell us whether a client can win in a community where they want to site a wind farm. As we’ve reported before in The Saint Report, the Saint Index has documented for two years now that wind farms are the leading acceptable energy project respondents supported for their community. Yet, we help developers overcome entrenched opposition every day. That’s because a poll measures a respondent’s view under no emotional threat of some proposal that will change the status quo of their life on a day to day basis. Someone coming to your door and telling you a wind farm is proposed across the street will.
On the ground field research is critical to assess how turbines will impact residents in nearby communities and most importantly, touch on those local lightning rod issues they care about most.
However, I don’t think Maggie gives local NIMBYs enough credit or due. At Saint Consulting we see countless development projects each year killed or significantly delayed by the NIMBY factor. And not just in cases where developers write them off as NIMBY but actually try to come up with legitimate plans to deal with their concerns. The problem is, sometimes that’s not enough. In a growing number of cases, it isn’t even close.
The bottom line is developers need to take an “all of the above” approach: understand local opposition early; educate the key stakeholders and public officials; assess entrenched NIMBY forces and have a plan to mitigate their opportunity to stop your project. But don’t expect that just dealing with the opposition fairly and continually will result in their support. They may still oppose your application. The next best thing is if you can at least get them to admit you’ve dealt with them in a transparent and honest fashion. Although even if you have, the passion of opponents may still dictate their tactics in lobbing erroneous charges at you.
Jay Vincent is senior vice president for energy, The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org phone 312.970.5770 Ext: 7502