Siting a power generation facility or transmission line is a complex and nuanced exercise involving multiple stakeholders. These may include government officials, regulators, neighborhood groups, advocacy organizations or engaged individuals, each with their own concerns and points of view.
Successfully managing these groups’ interests requires a responsive communications strategy. And, the best communications strategy pegs communications tactics with existing permitting processes, whether they be NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), SEQR (New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act), the New York Public Service Commission’s Article 10 or Article VII of the New York Public Service Law.
In this piece I hope to briefly establish what makes for a responsive communications strategy and describe why aligning this strategy with the regulatory process is so important. (In the future, I will discuss communications challenges specific to energy siting, such as “NIMBYism,” hosting an effective public meeting, and responding to highly organized opposition.)
When it comes to developing a responsive communications strategy for project siting, there are two cardinal rules:
Rule 1: Facts are your friends.
Rule 2: Boring is better.
Energy generation, transmission and policy are very complex matters. When communicating with the public, a project must start by presenting the facts clearly, honestly and dispassionately. In each and every case, facts are a project’s friends, because they serve as the basis for rational discussion and due consideration.
Emotion and drama, however, typically serve to undermine projects and the project’s messages. It is the reason project opponents often appeal to passions. It is tough to have a conversation with a stakeholder who is angry or scared.
This is why we believe the best project communications are highly informative yet boring. Boring helps stakeholders get the information quickly. The boring approach respects stakeholders who are looking for the facts. And boring avoids the emotion and drama that all too often derail projects.
ALIGNING COMMUNICATIONS WITH REGULATORY PROCESSES
Every large energy project will be subject to a regulatory process. When it comes to communications, some processes are highly prescriptive (Article 10). Others are less so (SEQR). But in all cases the regulatory processes provide a predictable structure around which to plan communications.
Using the siting process as a map to create parallel communication tactics can help a project determine the appropriate level and type of communication to have with the communities and constituents involved. By tying a communications strategy to the permitting rules and siting process, a project can also avoid several pitfalls — namely the appearance of confusion or lack of understanding about rules that must be followed during the regulatory process.
If a community feels that the siting applicant understands and respects the process, the ability to work together is greatly enhanced.
Creating effective communication strategies for energy projects is complex with many audiences that want information. In addition to the obvious players, such as local governments and community groups, it is critical to communicate effectively with key constituents, ranging from state and federal regulatory agencies to environmental advocates to community and economic development groups.
Mower has the expertise to help utilities and others build a successful communications strategy that coincides with their regulatory process and has been doing so for years. We’ve worked with clients throughout the Northeast and played a critical role in more than a dozen successful siting projects.