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The Right Grassroots to Counter Opposition to Energy Projects

Now that energy companies are realizing the benefits of proactively countering or avoiding NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) type of opposition to their projects, it is important these same companies employ the use of appropriate campaigning techniques. If your firm finds itself involved in a NIMBY fight, take the steps necessary to ensure the proper message is getting out to the public.

More often it seems that NIMBY activists are simply in it to win it. They speak out, without taking the time to educate themselves with accurate information pertaining to the project at hand. While NIMBY groups may protest loud and proud, their motives often stem from misinformation and poor communication between project representatives and the community.

Companies frequently wait until opposition arises to hire a public affairs firm. By then residents have solidified their positions on a project, making it all the more difficult for them to change their minds in your favor.  While some may feel the “added cost” of a public affairs firm is not worth it to the project budget, think about how much it costs a project to be delayed weeks, months or years, or to be outright denied approval.

You may choose to fight NIMBY on your own. However, experience shows that hiring a specialized firm will provide you with the necessary tools and tactics to lead you towards a victory for your project. Trained professionals from a grassroots firm will make sure that the correct message from your company is being distributed to the community and the silent majority is heard. The way you approach the situation will make all the difference.

All too often companies will mistake “public relations” for “public affairs” and create a campaign based on selling a project with glamorized ads rather than running a targeted “political style” campaign that can effectively counter the opponents’ efforts.   Tactics such as door to door canvassing, identification phone banking, direct mail, and polling are critical to running an effective campaign to counter NIMBY opposition. Many of these campaigns should follow some simple rules, a few of which we have listed below:

Rule # 1 – Educate first, then identify: Don’t try to identify supporters of your project until you have researched extensively in order to educate yourself appropriately.  If you disseminate the facts of the project first you will gain large numbers of ardent supporters, and ultimately maximize your spending.

Rule # 2 – Identify supporters and code them into a database: Effective organization of a database is crucial to the success of a campaign.  Whether the identification process is achieved through direct mail, radio, phone calls or e-mail, having an unorganized list of supporters and undecided residents doesn’t do your campaign any good.  By inputting your supporters into a database, you can then separate them by town, county and legislative district for effective grassroots lobbying.

Rule # 3 – Do not rely solely on e-mail: Believe it or not, a fair percentage of people do not use the internet regularly. Many of these individuals are of an older demographic that often favors development. Placing an advertisement to include a website to contact is beneficial, but always include toll-free number for non-internet users to contact you.

Rule # 4 – Do not focus only on third party groups for support: Third party groups are critical for your efforts, but often a few dozen “regular citizens” showing up to hearings and meetings can benefit your project tremendously.

Rule # 5 – Be transparent: The last outcome you want is for your public affairs campaign to become a public relations nightmare.  Just as projects have engineers, lawyers, scientists, etc., they also can have community relations specialists. Be open about your outreach.

These are just a small portion of potential “rules” that can go into a public affairs grassroots campaign to counter opposition to energy projects. Campaigns should be designed based on several factors including the size of the population you are targeting, the level of opposition, and the length of the entitlement process. Many of these campaigns should research their territory, identify supporters code them into a database, not rely solely on e-mail, not focus only on third party support and should always be transparent.

Grassroots campaigns create a support group of members from the local community who support the project to assist in your efforts. The support group can actively promote your project through social networking. Proactive support groups are also a great source of volunteers and as they volunteer, they’ll feel more committed and supportive of your project.

Regardless of the industry or location, NIMBY always presents itself in an attempt to curb a proposal. It can attack any project no matter how big or small. Employing proper campaign tactics and developing the right grassroots campaign can counter NIMBY opposition to your energy projects.

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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4 thoughts on “The Right Grassroots to Counter Opposition to Energy Projects

  1. Very good article. Here is an addition I’ll call 5A. Even if you bring on the public relations professional, it is critical to give that person the power to shape the message. No message should be allowed to go out in any format by the attorney, engineer, etc., unless it is evaluated and, if necessary, messaged by the public relations professional. Make sure the whole team is on board about this concept. Some think they are above such review.

  2. Thanks Al for making a political strategist as important as the other elements of a project development. While many renewable energy companies are “banking” on people thinking that because they are solar and wind, they are on the good side, what we are finding is a more traditional fight like we see in the solid waste industry, that is a rural impacts versus urban benefits debate, using distributed energy as the wedge. Large wind and solar projects located in rural locations need large transmission lines to bring their energy to different regions, and this is where the real fights are taking place — areas hosting large transmission lines. If you are developing a renewable energy project with these forces shaping up, you may want to hone up on how distributed energy resources are being developed in both the host and the “impacted” communities as this may be the force function that delays a project.
    Kelly Sarber – Strategic Management Group

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