Solar farms and solar energy projects are booming worldwide, and while that news is welcome, many projects are being defeated - not by poor planning or difficult sites, but rather by public or political opposition that continues to oppose all things energy - from non-renewables, to renewables such as wind, hydro and of course solar.
Courtesy of NREL
"Brushy Brook Solar Plan Voted Down," reads the headlines of a New England article for a project recently defeated in Hopkinton, Rhode Island. One of the city councilors specifically stated that he had listened to the residents and was against the project.
A recent Washington Post article "Proposed solar energy developments draw opposition over loss of farmland" highlights Baltimore County, and a push for a moratorium on solar projects. Moratoriums can be death knell for solar proposals, as they often box out larger projects that are needed to feed starving electric grids.
One councilor in Danville, Illinois stated that solar was the wave of the future, however just not in the location where companies proposed solar gardens. The article headline read, "Council denies solar garden permits."
The United States is not the only area that has seen opposition and defeat of solar proposals and projects. "Local opposition to Llucmajor solar mega-project" has residents in Palma, an island off the coast of Spain, calling for the defeat of a large solar proposal.
Solar and renewable companies need to continue public education of their projects, from the first day they are announced through approval. Here are three great tactics that can help take your renewable project from the drawing board to the people who are most affected, and those who will be voting on the project.
All Things Digital
Create a website for your project to disseminate information easily. Link a project Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram page to it. You can advertise inexpensively on these digital platforms to spread the word on the facts for your solar project. Launching social media in a timely manner allows you the chance to control the promoted message rather than being forced to react when opposition arises.
Hold Community Forums
To introduce solar energy to skeptical residents will take a strategic public education campaign, and no better place to start this than with a community forum, open house or charette. Showcase your solar proposal. Have samples of solar panels, and detail how solar farms work. Invite key stakeholders and residents, along with elected officials. It is a great way for one-on-one communication with residents and those who live nearby who may feel they are more impacted.
Don't rule out direct mail. While social media campaigns will still reach an important audience, it is imperative to account for those that will benefit more from physical mailing. When paired together, these tactics can reach targeted audiences with strategic messaging, each in their own right. Direct mailing is cost effective when targeted to specific demographics- i.e. invitations to public hearings or open houses to supporters once they have been identified. Sending a direct mailer that corrects myths and clarifies misconceptions could sway those who have not taken a stance in your favor. "Snail mail" may sound old, but it can be very useful.
Remember that all land use is local. Building grassroots support through political-style campaigning is often a good way to have these projects approved in a timely and more cost-efficient manner.
Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1995. His firm has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, energy and residential projects. Additionally, his firm has worked on projects in twenty-six states and three countries.