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Advancing Offshore Wind Community Acceptance Practices: New Report

Offshore wind can avoid problems and costs through the community engagement lessons of other clean economy sectors. Read the new report from Mike Casey of Tigercomm, a top cleantech public affairs expert.

offshore wind reportThe scaling potential for offshore wind is vast, “nearly double” the US nation’s current electricity use, according to the American Wind Energy Association. This week, the offshore wind sector (OSW) hit a milestone on the way to fulfilling that potential when Ørsted installed the first turbine foundations in US federal waters off Virginia’s coast. And that boost in momentum comes not a moment too soon. The disaster of global climate disruption grinds on, despite the 18% dip in carbon pollution as a result of the global pandemic.

As the OSW sector continues to grow, it will have to address constraints on its growth from government officials at the federal and state levels — as well as local communities at which OSW infrastructure will make landfall. A new analysis has gathered and distilled a set money-saving lessons that OSW can take from the experience of other clean economy sectors in dealing with local governments.

The analysis, Why Steer Into Rough Seas? Helping offshore wind avoid community acceptances problems, draws a distinction between new industries and new sectors. It explains why the distinction has downstream impact on how to design successful public affairs programs. And, it discusses the increased “professionalization” of push-back by NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) resistance in the local communities with regulatory control over many clean economy companies.

Why Steer Into Rough Seas? then collects and analyzes the experiences of several clean economy sectors in engaging local communities that regulate these sectors’ companies. According to the analysis, the overlap of these sectors’ experience from a three-phase pattern called the “Clean Economy Mistake Path.” Any company on the second phase or later is facing significantly higher costs to solve community relations problems. Companies that have entered the third stage can lose entire projects — or go out of business entirely.

The analysis then lists five missteps that clean economy sectors take toward the Mistake Path. It also provides four best practices for offshore wind (OSW) to consider when engaging the coastal communities where OSW project infrastructure will make landfall.

The analysis makes the case that unlike other clean economy sectors, OSW isn’t populated by low-budget startups that can’t afford robust community acceptance programs. Instead, the sector has the advantage of being driven at an early stage by mature, deep-pocketed global companies that are vying for the lead in developing the considerable OSW resources on the East Coast of the US.

“The bad news is that offshore wind will have to navigate the same community engagement problems of other clean economy sectors. The good news is that there are lessons learned that can save offshore wind time and expensive trouble,” said analysis author Mike Casey. “We’ve been involved with companies that have harvested these lessons, and we wanted to make them available to the offshore wind industry in a user-friendly, actionable format.”

The analysis arose out of a presentation by Casey last fall to the Offshore Wind Conference in Boston, hosted by the American Wind Energy Association. Within the wind, solar, battery storage, and PACE sectors, Casey is widely seen as something of a guru when it comes to marketing communications and public affairs. He and his firm, Tigercomm, have worked with a who’s who of clean economy players, including the biggest solar panel maker in the world (Trina Solar) and the biggest wind turbine maker (Vestas).

The analysis is available for free here. And, with the Trump Administration endangering offshore wind development and showering favors on oil and gas drillers, these recommendations are all the more timely.

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