Does It Seem Like It's Getting Harder to Get Your Renewable Energy Project Built?


Stephen Sementilli

Senior Counselor, Public Affairs

Anyone that has been in the renewable energy field for more than a few weeks knows that the path to getting a solar or wind power or battery energy storage system project constructed and into operation is fraught with complexities.  The challenge of navigating community resistance and the intricate landscape of local and state politics stands out as particularly daunting.  The obstacles to siting and constructing renewable energy projects across the country have increased as opposition to projects has become more organized and proactive. 

Understanding both this fact and the pivotal role that local and state elected and appointed officials play in the process, the necessity of engaging experienced public affairs professionals to plan and orchestrate effective community engagement strategies becomes obvious.  Local and state elected officials find themselves in a precarious position when promoting renewable energy projects within their jurisdictions.  Tasked with balancing the broader environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy against localized concerns, these officials often face strong opposition to specific projects. 

Opposition can stem from a variety of concerns, including but not limited to, zoning regulations, preservation of agricultural land, environmental impact, aesthetics, and concerns about decreasing property values.  Such resistance not only slows down the project approval process but can also polarize communities, making the officials’ roles more challenging and politically risky.

Mandates are Not Enough

The difficulties associated with securing approval for renewable energy projects are compounded by a common misconception: that state and federal mandates for renewable energy development simplify the construction of new projects.  In reality, these mandates do not alleviate the local-level challenges that can stymie project development.  Along with all the usual labyrinth of zoning regulations, environmental assessments, and, most importantly, community sentiment, getting to “yes” continues to be a complex task requiring more than just compliance with overarching renewable energy goals.

Opposition is Getting Stronger

Acknowledging the increasingly organized and sophisticated opposition faced in communities across the country, it becomes clear that a more nuanced and micro-targeted approach to community engagement is essential.  The traditional model of public meetings and charitable giving is no longer sufficient to garner the public support that is needed to help get renewable energy projects over the finish line.  Instead, developers must use all available communications tools as they aim to build genuine relationships with community stakeholders, address concerns directly and transparently, and foster a sense of shared vision.  In order to make this all happen, renewable energy companies must partner with experienced public affairs professionals who know energy generation, transmission, distribution, and policy and fine-tune a coordinated community engagement strategy for the specific project area.

Experience Matters

Experienced public affairs professionals bring to the table a deep understanding of the political and social dynamics at play in different communities.  They can help navigate the complex terrain of local politics, identify key influencers and stakeholders, and craft messages that resonate with the community’s values and concerns.  By working to create an environment of respect and mutual understanding, developers can shift from being perceived as heavy-handed invaders to being seen as investors in the future of the community.

Additionally, a strategic approach to community engagement recognized the importance of building broad-based support, leveraging local media, organizing public forums that encourage constructive dialogue, and utilizing digital tools to reach a wider audience.  These tactics, combined with transparent communication about the economic, environmental, and social benefits of renewable energy projects, can significantly counter opposition and lessen its intensity.

Picking the Right Partners

In light of these considerations, the partnership between renewable energy developers and public affairs professionals with extensive experience in energy development has become a critical factor in overcoming the obstacles to renewable energy project approval.  Such partnerships enable a more sophisticated understanding of community concerns, leading to more effective engagement strategies that not only engage and counter opposition but also could build lasting support for projects.

Reaching the Goal

The road to a sustainable energy future is littered with challenges that will continue to increase and intensify over time.  Community resistance to the siting and construction of solar and wind farms and battery energy storage systems continues to be the most pronounced and likely the most important of those challenges.  To navigate and overcome them, a concerted effort in partnership with specialized and experienced public affairs professionals is essential.  As with coordinated community engagement activities in other fields, it is possible to optimize support and empower supporters while simultaneously minimizing the intensity and impact of opponents.  Doing things the old way, or just checking the regulatory boxes, is no longer going to get it done.  The way to successfully bring renewable energy projects online today involves a very specialized skillset that can only be provided by those who have spent years involved in doing the little things that are essential to overcoming opposition to energy development.

Hey! Our name is pronounced Mōw-rrr, like this thing I’m pushing.

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