Highlighting the facts, benefits and advantages of a wind farm are a crucial part of any developer’s portfolio to gain permitting approval for a project. Wind farms can and do provide a cheap, clean, renewable source of power, not to mention the economic boost they distribute to the communities surrounding the projects.
It takes a multitude of initiatives to move opinions and affect change when residents are concerned about their communities. People often latch onto false statements in order to defend what they perceive as the preservation of their lifestyles.
Presenting the facts in a clear, concise and consistent manner is the key to successfully getting a wind farm approved in the U.S. Developers who initiate a multi-pronged campaign will be the ones who are able to construct their projects with the least amount of obstacles.
Coalition-building combined with a media effort and direct, third-party outreach must be done immediately — these are essential factors to successfully gaining approval of a wind farm permit. Developers must be willing to find ways to build a large, influential group of wind-farm supporters, creating a strong coalition to promote the project’s benefits. This means finding and vetting reliable experts and other possible coalition members, and then presenting their information in an informative, non-confrontational manner.
Supporters can be members of local school boards, chambers of commerce and emergency agencies, as well as officials who run colleges, unions and other economic and/or development councils. Highly placed, well-established leaders of the community are essential to create a strong coalition in support of the project. Business owners are especially important and are often willing to support a project since they may benefit directly from its income generation, especially during construction. Average citizens are also important because they represent mainstream community support for the project.
Supporters should be provided with effective messages and key facts through one-page handouts for them to use, if desired. However, there is no substitute for a committed supporter speaking on behalf of something they believe in passionately, and doing so in their own words. As the coalition grows, it becomes a sizable influence in the permitting process. Its members must be prepared to attend and speak at public hearings, and individual members may also recruit others to join the supporting group. They may also speak on behalf of the project individually with decision-makers with whom they have relationships. Some may write letters to the editor or even opinion columns (op-eds) in local newspapers. All of these actions are typical of active, effective coalitions.
Their support can help public officials see the benefits of a wind project that could generate hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in income during construction and then provide on-going benefits for years afterward. Such messages resonate with nearly every person who might be feeling the pinch of a stalled economy.
When it comes to energy projects, the economy is always a key factor. In the case of wind farms, an economic downturn increases the desirability of the project’s tax revenues, new jobs and other benefits. Many U.S. communities’ education systems have been hit hard by budget cuts, both state and local, so presenting information that displays the benefits of energy development can have a very strong impact.
These facts should be supported by sound data and analysis from experts who are respected in their field, and ideally, in the community where the wind farm will be built. To really drive home the point of an improved economy, an economic study assessing the benefits of the wind farm in its immediate region (and even the entire state) is a powerful tool that can reverberate with officials and residents alike.
With this same data and analysis, direct community outreach can ensure the facts about the project are brought forth so people can understand the benefits. This effort, which should address concerns such as wildlife and noise, can involve open letters or advertorials in local newspapers, a public meeting or open house, a luncheon for the downtown business community, speaking engagements, and recruitment of campus support.
To generate positive media coverage, the campaign should include editorial boards and reporter-desk side briefings about the project, along with op-eds about wind-power benefits. A media kit for the wind farm with any relevant releases and fact sheets is another tangible item that is central to the effort. Newsletters that include as many visuals as necessary to convey agreed-upon information about the wind farm’s development and the industry will also help solidify the messages.
A Web site devoted to the project is especially important. Today, people seek information on the Web so frequently that a project without a Web site is almost viewed as not serious, viable or “real.” It is where everyone from potential supporters to media reporters goes for information, facts and answers to questions. Digital and social media, including Twitter and a Facebook page devoted to the project, are increasingly important.
Finally, a PowerPoint presentation for speaking engagements and a DVD for opinion leaders and political activists who operate in the project’s region can help bring the project’s messages to life. The DVD can be edited to extrapolate short clips that can be forwarded in e-mails, inserted in PowerPoint presentations as streaming video and placed on the project’s Web site.