Utility Week

UTILITY Week 15th July 2016

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Operations & Assets 24 | 15TH - 21ST JULY 2016 | UTILITY WEEK Market view How to get the public on side Clear and accessible communication is key to securing support among local residents and businesses for potentially contentious projects such as offshore windfarms, says Hannah Rooke. I n May it was announced that the world's largest floating windfarm is to be built off the Scottish coast. As these projects get bigger, wider and generate more energy than ever before, it's a growing challenge for energy firms to communicate the benefits of the schemes to the general public. Though harnessing wind is, in many ways, more environmentally friendly than other sources of energy, there is usually a ra of public concerns to be aware of. However, if energy firms can acknowledge and address these worries appropriately, it is possible to soen potentially negative public perception and ensure projects progress smoothly. Getting local residents on side with a new wind energy scheme can be more than just a bump in the road. As projects reach record- breaking levels in size, they are seen to have a more visible and invasive impact on our skyline, shores and countryside. The first step in communicating effec- tively with the public is to anticipate what any initial concerns might be. If, for exam- ple, an offshore windfarm is in close prox- imity to an affluent area with no similar schemes in the vicinity, it is crucial for part- ners involved in the project to educate resi- dents and businesses as to the real impact, disruption and benefits the scheme will bring to the area. The energy company or utilities provider needs to develop a robust, clear and acces- sible communications strategy in the earli- est stage of a project's life span, so that the messaging and brand voice can be consistent throughout. For any project, energy companies need to instil a strong sense of trust. Rather than glossing over any concerns, it's advisable to be honest and open about the realities of a project. Aer all, if concerns about the ulti- mate legacy of the windfarm are assuaged, but the reality of the disruption while the scheme is being built is not communicated, that can lead local people to feel angry, betrayed and negative towards the venture. It is also important to communicate what impact the construction of a scheme will have on the mainland, where energy is required to be transported through hundreds of metres of cabling. This is a huge logisti- cal challenge, requiring the installation of underground cables that might need foot- paths to be temporarily rerouted. Developers then need to communicate the reality that the turbines are, of course, only one element of any large-scale wind- farm project. By being transparent about the staggered installation schedule, any arrival of HGVs during construction would not be a surprise to local people and their businesses, and public feeling towards a scheme is more likely to remain positive. Other concerns might stem from local rumour, perhaps relating to fears that the vis- ibility of the scheme from shore will devalue properties, or worries about not understand- ing the complex planning process and deci- sions being made over their heads. In previous work alongside UK offshore windfarms, Michon produced a series of subtly promotional illustrations to reassure local businesses and residents. The images sensitively addressed frequently voiced con- cerns, demonstrating empathy to an emotive subject, understanding and appreciation for what might have been a 'not in my back yard' attitude to contend with. It is advisable to keep communications simple. Any messaging needs to be concise and easy for the general public to under- stand, but without being patronising or 'dumbed down'. Aer all, the general public is oen not familiar with industry jargon and technical terminology, and any communica- tion that cannot be digested may lead to fur- ther irritation. Of course, the positive effects of any scheme should also be highlighted. For example, if the scheme is huge, it's a case of communicating how much investment is put into an area, how much electricity is gener- ated and how many jobs would be created. Ultimately, getting the public on side with a potentially contentious scheme requires foresight, communications expertise and objectivity to imagine what it is like in a local resident's shoes. Through carefully thought- out, on-brand, empathetic messaging (in person, digitally or in print) and a focus on consistency and regularity to keep commu- nications open and accessible from start to finish, any energy project has the potential to be granted a local seal of approval. As long as there is a commitment to inform, reassure and encourage positive atti- tudes towards renewables projects, it's not impossible to persuade the public that devel- opments such as windfarms would have a positive impact on the local area, the UK economy and the wider environment. Hannah Rooke, senior account marketing manager, Michon SUPPORT FOR RENEWABLES IN PROVIDING ELECTRICITY, FUEL AND HEAT Strongly support Support Neither support nor oppose Oppose Strongly oppose Don't know All support All oppose 35% 46% 14% 3% 2% 1% 81% 4% Source: Decc Public Attitudes Tracking Survey – Wave 17

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