Engaging Local Communities for a Smooth Tidal Power Entitlement Process
Last month, the efforts of Tidal Lagoon Power, Ltd., to build the world’s first tidal lagoon progressed through a new phase in the United Kingdom’s entitlement process, bringing the South Wales project one small step closer to fruition. Following the conclusion of a six month examination period, the panel is set to produce a recommendation to Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, on the affordability and value of the project in the coming months. While this project has already secured important political champions as well as the support of the business community, hurdles may still lie ahead in the next six months before Secretary Davey issues his decision in mid-2015. As is the case with entitlement in any industry, a strong showing of public support is essential to bolstering a proposal’s chances for approval.
Swansea Bay is a unique project that lends itself nicely to crafting effective messaging for grassroots outreach. The £750-850 million proposal is the epitome of cutting edge, as it aims to use lagoon technology to power the equivalent of approximately 120,000 homes for 120 years to significantly reduce carbon emissions. This innovative approach is not lost on one of the project’s most important champions, Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb, who remarked, “This is great news for Wales and has the potential to provide a massive boost to the Welsh economy — creating thousands of jobs, attracting millions of pounds worth of investment and helping to secure Wales’s energy future.” In addition, the project has third-party support from the business community, including the Swansea Bay Business Club, which generally supports the proposal due to the boost to tourism that a new visitor center will create as part of the proposal’s educational, cultural and leisure elements. As shown with the cade of Swansea Bay, with an effective transmission of project benefits, supporters come out of the woodworks to speak to the positive impact the tidal project will have on the community.
However, though Swansea Bay has quality political and third-party advocates, opponents continue to vocalize their fears of contamination and depopulation of various species in the Severn Estuary that would house the project. In addition, the 2010 defeat of the £30 billion Severn Barrage scheme left many environmentalists with a preservationist attitude for the area. Given the strength of the opposition from only a short time ago, the engagement of supporters in the next six months will continue to be critical as Wales awaits a decision from Secretary Davey. Supportive letters to newspapers and officials are the key to the demonstration of tangible grassroots public support before the eyes of decision makers.
With Swansea Bay as a precedent, future tidal projects should carefully plan public outreach as new proposals are planned. Projects to follow will not have the advantage of being announced as the “world’s first tidal project,” and therefore, messaging on the subject of innovation may not resonate as deeply with community members. To ensure success, all tidal projects must methodically engage supporters to advocate for this new technology that will bring new jobs and provide greater energy security for years to come.
Prime the Audience– Without proper education, companies are at risk of community members completely overlooking initial strategic messaging. Lay the groundwork for a public affairs campaign by engaging experts in the field before the project is even announced to prime your audience through public interest articles or letters to the editor. Education can also take place before announcement through mailers that are not project-specific but rather are informative releases of new industry facts. Prepare backgrounders for handouts at press conferences or to post on the project’s website once announced to ensure information on the industry as a whole is available to interested parties when plans are made public. All messaging should be woven into credible background information and stakeholders’ comments of validation to set the tone of the campaign early on.
Organize Data– The key to a grassroots campaign is the organization of a target database in which all households in a community are listed with contact information, demographic information and voting behavior appended. As outreach is made, all households should be coded for levels of support so that if a group of undecideds, for example, in the district that encompasses the proposal must be targeted with stronger messaging through mail or phone calls, this can be done easily.
Call upon Supporters- Once a proposal is announced, every grassroots campaign must contain a call to action to rally supporters. First, to identify supporters, direct mail and telephone identification can be utilized. Mailers with a postage-paid tear-off reply mail card allows community members to read about project details and respond with their contact information as well as an indication of how they are willing to assist the grassroots campaign if they support the proposal. Then, by calling all households in the database with an identification script, hundreds of additional households can be identified in as little as twenty-four hours. Once all identified supporters in the community are coded into the database, call upon them to an in-person meeting to launch the advocacy network. Supporters should be met with regularly to keep them informed, engaged and active.
Letter-writing Drives and Hearing Attendance– Community members are much more likely to turn out in person to speak out against something they are at risk of “losing” rather than something they could possibly gain. Therefore, opponents who feel they will lose the aesthetic pleasure, value to their homes, or environmental preservation will rally quickly to try to prevent a tidal project from coming to their community. The difficulty becomes getting those who stand to benefit from the new jobs, tax revenue and energy security to speak out about the potential gains a proposal could bring. However, if properly identified and informed of how they can help assist the cause, supporters write quality letters to newspapers, online forums, social media spheres, and public officials. These showings of support supplement supporter testimony at hearings to the benefit of any proposed project. Third-party stakeholders are also effective at providing quality validation of a proposal’s merits, and when this validation proliferates throughout community members’ awareness, a project is far more likely to be viewed positively by public officials, regardless of the opposition that has formed.
Identification of supporters can be time consuming on an individual level without a methodical approach. However, the value of these stakeholder and citizen validators cannot be underestimated because time and time again, projects without central voices of support end in defeat before entitling agencies. To protect any project, include a public affairs plan into strategic planning and engage supporters from the start.
Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc., in 1995. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American studies from the University of Connecticut.
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