In February, we wrote about our application to a pilot workshop sponsored by the Department of Energy called “Facilitating: Wind Energy Siting” to be held at Harvard Law School in March. We applied for one of the fifty openings, and what do you know, we were accepted, as were about 100 other people, including Luke Snelling of Energize Vermont. The final group was expanded from 50 to 100 who were chosen out of a pool of more than 300 applicants.
With some skepticism, I made my way to Harvard Law School on March 23, not really knowing what to expect. We were supplied some preliminary materials that included biographies of the presenters. Upon arrival, we were given a notebook that included a listing of the participants. There were about 30 wind developers, about 30 people from state and local governments, and about 30 “community” groups. Most of the people representing their communities seemed to be engaged in attempting to develop wind projects. There was no evidence of anyone from other New England states fighting against wind development among the participants. While almost everyone was from New England, they also included some people from outside New England and from Europe and Mexico to provide some national and international perspectives. As a pilot workshop, one of the goals was to enable people to take the lessons back and build on what we learned.
From noon on Wednesday through 3 p.m. on Friday, we listened to the wisdom of Lawrence Susskind of the Consensus Building Institute, heard presentations about wind projects in Maine, watched power point presentations by noise and aesthetic experts, and engaged in several role-playing exercises with follow-up discussions.
While the subject was wind siting, the teachings about community engagement, stakeholder processes, joint fact finding, and mutual gains are applicable to all the areas in which VCE works. The workshop turned out to be far more valuable than I could have imagined. VCE has been advocating for stakeholder processes as an preliminary step before going through the regulatory process and testified in February to the Vermont Senate Finance Committee recommending the use of stakeholder processes for renewable energy siting.
FACILITATING: WIND ENERGY SITING Addressing Challenges around Visual Impacts, Noise, Credible Data, and Local Benefits through Creative Stakeholder Engagement Agenda
Wednesday, March 23, 2011. Day One.
Introduction and Opening Remarks by Lawrence Susskind. Audio
Opening Remarks by Jonathan Raab. Audio
Opening Exercise: Introductions and Reporting Out. Audio [this file has been removed at the request of Consensus Building Institute]
Power Point: Effective Stakeholder Engagement and Negotiation, A Better Approach: A Mutual Gains Approach, Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Audio
Negotiation Exercise “West Wind in Pine Hills“. Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
Wrap Up and Discussion [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]. End of First of Three Days of Workshop
Thursday, March 24, 2011. Day Two.
Opening Reflections and Q & A Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
Power Point: Visual Impacts: Cape Wind and VT Energy Future Cases, Jonathan Raab, Raab Associates, Inc. Audio
Power Point: Picture This: Visual Simulations as a Tool in the Process of Appropriate Siting, Tyler Studds, Vineyard Power. Audio
Visual Impacts Discussion Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
Bat Agreement Exercise Reporting Out Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
Tobey Williamson, Barton and Gingold. Audio
Community Benefits Discussion Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
Friday, March 25, 2011. Day Three.
Opening Discussion Q & A Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
Collaborative Wind Siting and Policymaking Exercise Intro Audio
The Windy State Policy Game Instructions
Collaborative Wind Siting Exercise Reporting Out Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
Wrap Up Audio [this file has been removed at the request of CBI]
- Don’t tout the national or global benefits of wind energy when people care about how decisions affect them locally. Greenhouse gas reductions and increased independence from foreign oil sound good in the abstract, but they don’t offset adverse local effects.
- Don’t surprise people and announce plans to build something without giving everyone in the area a chance to say whether and how a project should be built. It’s better to have several siting choices ready to go, rather than just one.
- Don’t build wind turbines too close to the nearest abutters. Adequate buffers make for good neighbors.
- Don’t tell people that wind farms will be so quiet they won’t hear anything. Human perception of noise is a complex and idiosyncratic phenomenon.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about the ways in which the profits from a wind energy plant might be shared with the community. Joint ventures are easier to negotiate than hostile takeovers, and some of the public may see land development for energy as the latter.
- Don’t presume that 100% of the people in an area will accept a proposed wind energy facility just because it meets all federal, state, and local guidelines. Some people don’t like change of any kind, regardless of the benefits that might be created. Some might view themselves as particularly adversely affected (a vista disrupted, nighttime sleep disturbed, etc.).
- Don’t assume the media will necessarily cover the “whole” story and present all viewpoints. A few angry, upset, media-savvy citizens on a mission can dominate the narrative and drown out a large majority of the silent public.
Here are some things to do:
- Do find a way to involve all the relevant stakeholders in discussions about when, where, and how to build and operate wind plants. Consider using a skilled, neutral facilitator without an agenda to manage these conversations.
- Do consider contingent agreements, for instance, consider an insurance policy to compensate those who live near a proposed facility for any measurable decline in property values caused by the wind development. It is possible to buy “property value insurance” to ensure that no one suffers any losses.
- Do realize that everyone reacts differently to noise and visual impacts. That doesn’t mean they are wrong or crazy. It does mean they have different opinions, views, and experiences.
- Do engage in joint fact finding so that all sides have a chance to frame the questions that they want to have answered. Let them help select experts they trust to provide good technical advice. Avoid the “dueling experts syndrome” which will be great for well-paid consultants, but won’t necessarily produce credible, trusted information.
- Do realize that hundreds of wind farms have been built across America (and in other parts of the world) and that past experience can be instructive, both in the positive and the negative. One small, failed development can affect the public’s view across an entire region.
- Do realize that there are risks and benefits associated with any technology, and that the job of elected and appointed officials is to reduce risk and ensure that benefits are shared, not to gloss over the negative impacts and assert that there are no risks.
- Do encourage states to involve the public in formulating state wind policies. Battles over specific sites and projects do not add up to general policies about where, when, and how to encourage the construction of wind energy plants. Pre-approval of certain kinds of sites, set-back and noise requirements, aesthetic and environmental protection rules, community benefit agreements, and monitoring provisions can help to avoid the need to address each of these questions over and over again at every site.
In our view, the traditional “town meeting” or “hearings” approach to energy facility siting rarely leads to informed agreement. Stakeholders learn little at raucous public meetings other than who is mad, to what degree, and at whom. Local media are often not willing or able to interpret and disseminate critical background information that would allow people to make informed decisions.
To encourage reasoned debate and non-partisan information sharing, communities – citizens, town officials, elected officials, agencies – need to engage in carefully managed problem-solving. Professionally facilitated stakeholder engagement, involving professional intermediaries chosen by the stakeholder, ensures an even playing field where such informal problem solving is possible. Robust public engagement should take advantage of all the communication tools of the modern age (the web, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.).
We feel that the “Facility Siting Credo” summarizes the best way to ensure a fair, efficient, and wise outcome in wind energy siting.” The Credo, prepared by the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program, has been carefully tested in hundreds of siting disputes.
Wind siting is certainly hard to do — but it’s no harder to do right, than it is to do it wrong.