Saint Model Outcome — a wind farm case study on how to build community support

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

wind-farmActions speak louder than words. We talk about how Saint Consulting employs land use politics to win difficult planning permits. We thought some examples of case studies from our 25 years of fighting planning battles could provide some action.

Today we start a series of Saint Model Outcomes — case studies that outline a business challenge, our approach and the outcome. Out of respect to our clients’ confidentiality, the circumstances of each case study are redacted without obscuring the lesson of each model outcome.

Our client, a wind farm developer, proposed to build a 100-megawatt project with nearly 70 wind turbines in a rural heartland community on property that was zoned for agricultural use. The local officials were concerned about impacts on agricultural use and construction damage to local roads. Opponents said the towers would decrease property values, create harmful noise levels and ruin the landscape. When we were hired, the only vocal supporters of the project were participating landowners.

The necessary approach was clear. Our initial efforts focused on identifying supportive residents and assessing opponents’ motivations, arguments and criticisms of the project. We then developed messages to counter misinformation from the opposition, and distributed them in client branded outreach materials, earned media and public testimony to decision-makers

Our outreach team coordinated community events including a tour of an operating wind farm in the vicinity, a picnic for supporters and kite-flying lessons for local children. We used these activities as organizing tools where participants were provided various opportunities to demonstrate support for the project. Coalition building began with local institutions, key stakeholders and power brokers, and then expanded to include community residents.

We formed a third-party advocacy group to demonstrate grassroots community support, and mobilized members to attend and provide testimony at public hearings, to contact local media and to make presentations before other community organizations. We mobilized citizens through turnout efforts targeting identified supporters for public hearings and scripted speakers’ comments.

Before our involvement, the local media covered only the opposition’s talking points about negative health impacts and decreased property values. We created positive media reporting within two weeks of engagement through a combination of positive letters to the editor in newspapers and demonstration of support at public meetings.

Overwhelming support was demonstrated through local media and at public hearings. This encouraged local decision-makers to approve the project, and also discouraged the small but vocal group of opponents who had previously dominated the process. The project was approved by a 9-0 vote, with two members abstaining.

Jay Vincent is senior vice president, energy, The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 312.212.8889

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