By Jay Vincent,
Senior Vice President for Energy, The Saint Consulting Group
A recent American Wind Energy Association’s Project Siting Workshop I attended went beyond the core environmental issues that any new site must address to tackle the impact of community politics, which often prevents or delays wind turbines from even being built.
Experts on noise, wildlife and other environmental issues discussed the current dialogue of impact from wind farms on their surroundings at the Seattle workshop late last month. But more crucial to implementing the renewable energy policies of the Obama Administration and many state governments, were the discussions of “NIMBY” impacts on the siting and permitting processes wind developers face before they can begin putting up towers, nacelles and blades in local communities. Let’s face it, the community politics around these sites have become equally as important as the wind around them.
I think the industry, pushed by solid associations like AWEA, has come a long way to recognize, manage and dictate the public perceptions in communities targeted for wind development and address the need to counter the political impact of sophisticated opposition tactics often marshaled against them.
After the final bell at the conference, after a very honest closing assessment of the political pressures impacting conditional use permits, special exceptions and other planning and zoning votes, I think the general consensus within the industry is that putting equal or more necessary resources behind public support is a wise endeavor.
A realization has hit the industry full force that the huge investments in engineering, turbines, land acquisition and environmental studies can be defeated by a few neighbors who are well motivated, funded and supported by others, and they are appropriately beefing up their training efforts, facts and expertise to deal with such opposition.
I’ve always been impressed by the efforts with which wind energy interests have dealt with members of the public in local communities. They are honest brokers and community partners and interface with impacted neighbors on the level. However, many of these site fights move into political territory where other local considerations and influences on the project take priority, and at times decisions are made that might have nothing to do with factual information about impacts or the actual applications. The wind industry has fully realized that they need to have the science, the reputation and the local political will to meet the renewable energy goals of their company, the community, the state and the nation, but it starts and ends at Town Hall.
As we like to say at Saint Consulting, whether it be on wind energy or any other controversial land development proposal, all politics is local and all land use is political. It certainly has been for wind.
Jay Vincent is senior vice president for energy, The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 703 531-8274