Siting a new facility is a difficult task, especially in the energy space. Whether the project is a renewable generation facility, a transmission project or one focused on energy storage, it is bound to touch on issues people feel passionate about.
Proposing a new facility often pits the locality where the power will be created against other localities where the power will be used. It can pit environmentalists against business interests and neighboring towns against one another.
Stakeholders often have very valid concerns about the scope of a project and the intentions of the project sponsor. These stakeholders absolutely need to be informed about the process, but if you truly want to make it a success, you must ensure they are a part of the development process.
With that in mind, here are two things project sponsors should strive to achieve when working to site their next project.
Identify and engage stakeholders early.
No one wants to feel like they are the last person to know anything. This is especially true of elected officials and regulators. That is why it is vital at the very beginning of the facility siting process to develop a matrix of key stakeholders. Once complete, the matrix should be tiered, and a tight outreach schedule should be developed.
Examples of key stakeholders may include government officials, nonprofit organizations, opposition groups, organized labor, community activists and local residents. Each of these groups represents an important voice in the conversation.
Don’t start off on the wrong foot by neglecting to identify and engage with these groups early, because the old saying is true: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” (Compounding this truism is the equally valid axiom that “You need to make friends before you need them.”)
Build support first, announce second.
You’ve developed your stakeholder list. You’ve tiered it and you’ve started your outreach. You probably even have a good idea of who many of your supporters are and where they are located. That is a great start, but, if possible, resist the urge to publicly announce your project until you’ve completed as much outreach as possible.
Doing so is important for a few reasons. Your supporters will help you shape your messages by telling you what resonates and what does not. These individuals are the best focus group you could ever hope for. They will help you identify opponents and potential pitfalls. They will offer solutions to problems you haven’t even anticipated yet. In the end, your stakeholders will make your project better. When it comes time to announce the project, you have a group of people ready to amplify your messages, setting your project up for success.
News travels fast, and you may not have as much time as you’d like to build support, so always have key messages and a statement ready for the media. Hopefully you won’t have to use them until it’s time to announce the project on your own terms.