Is it just me or does there seem to be a rash of North American wind projects that have been delayed – or worse yet, canceled – due to poorly devised community engagement strategies? While communities and municipalities have thwarted project development plans in the past, the number of rejections seems to have increased. More alarming is that wind projects have stalled in areas not known for being antagonistic toward renewable energy. In talking with developers and suppliers, I’m aware of no fewer than 12 U.S. and Canadian wind projects that have been delayed or outright rejected this year. What happened? What’s changed?
For one, opposition groups have upped their levels of sophistication, explains Jan Andersen, vice president of energy matters at public affairs and advocacy consultancy Five Corner Strategies, adding that some have taken their causes to social media. Wind energy also has been elevated in the political discourse – therefore, making stakeholder relations even more challenging.
“[Developers] still apply the same outreach strategies that were successful five to 10 years ago, ignoring today’s reality that opposition is better organized, better funded and more motivated than it has been in the past,” he explains. “Many developers have also not adjusted to the increasingly toxic political climate on national, state and local levels.”
To be fair, wind developers themselves need to also shoulder some of the responsibility. I’m hearing that some have been resistant to change with the times – resigning themselves to go headlong into a community without having taken the necessary steps to cater to the needs of the specific community.
Other times, wind developers have also been stung by a few knuckleheads out there whose selfish actions have tarnished the reputations of any future developers.
One problem, Andersen says, is that too many developers are resource-constrained and, as such, are forced to take on too many tasks. “Rare is the individual who can expertly manage these very complicated areas, while also managing an effective community outreach program and navigating a complicated political environment,” he says.
Do not misunderstand: There are plenty of wind developers out there doing good work in communities. However, with the proliferation of social media, it does not take very long for an opposition group to begin planting the seeds of doubt against a project. All it takes is one half-baked effort to stain the entire wind industry. Times have changed, and so must the actions of wind developers. It’s the new reality. w