Change isn’t always easy. That is an especially important sentiment for utilities and developers to keep in mind as the U.S. energy industry embarks on a period of change as it pivots from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This transformation requires a new level of stakeholder management that will lead to project success and community satisfaction.
This transition to an increasing amount of solar and wind generation and battery storage facilities is driven by several factors. A growing number of cities and states are enacting renewable standards. Organizations and utilities are establishing decarbonization goals. To meet these new targets, the country’s electric generation fleet will need to shift rapidly.
The large-scale established generation sources, such as coal-fired plants, will diminish. In its place will be several smaller-scale facilities, such as wind and solar farm installations. These installations will likely exist on sites that haven’t been used for generation before. With this shift, new groups of stakeholders will be impacted by both new generation facilities and new and upgraded transmission networks. Communities previously far from generation fleets may soon become home to renewable generation, while others could host new transmission interconnections.
A key element of making renewable generation a reality is navigating the permitting process, which often demands extensive stakeholder management. Utilities and developers should prepare to address stakeholder issues early and often. A robust, collaborative approach to public involvement at the onset of a project’s life span can increase prospects for benefiting from a swift permitting process.
Regulators and residents expect multiple avenues for engagement and for their concerns to be addressed. Owners and developers will need to work with their neighbors and interested stakeholders to establish transparency on projects designed to strengthen the grid. Without this collaboration and mutual understanding, they may risk opposition to the projects.
As more renewable generation facilities come online, developers will face an increasingly limited number of suitable sites available for development. That makes it essential to have effective stakeholder management so that there aren’t any unforeseen obstacles.
Navigating the regulatory process to obtain the required permitting for renewable projects varies state by state. Many renewable developers might lack experience in new permitting processes, such as the Article 10 process in New York, which requires extensive stakeholder management. Here are some key strategies for successful stakeholder management:
- Engage stakeholders from the onset of the project to help prevent stakeholders from becoming project opponents.
- Tailor engagement and outreach strategies to specific projects.
- Include multiple stakeholder touch points to allow a wide range of voices the chance to share input.
- Collaborate with the stakeholders and allow them to serve as partners in decision-making.
- Provide the necessary information to stakeholders so that they are comfortable with a project.
As utilities and developers work to shape the future of the energy sector, key stakeholders need to have a say. Early, meaningful engagement can help win the hearts and minds of local stakeholders to achieve regulatory approval, ultimately helping jurisdictions and companies alike achieve their decarbonization goals.
Collaborative public engagement strategies and tactics are vitally important to fully vet renewable energy additions to the electric grid.