It doesn’t make sense. How do you go into to a tight knit rural community like North East and convince some of the landowners to erect gigantic, 500 foot, utility scale wind turbines on their land and make them believe it’s a good idea? On the face of it, it’s almost absurd. Yet, wind developers have done this in a number of locations and after they leave, the community is divided and everyone wonders what happened. Do they have some sort of playbook? Well, amazingly enough, it looks like they do.
While researching wind turbines in other communities facing the aftermath of the installations, a document turned up with the exciting name of “A Study of Wind Energy Development in Wisconsin – A Collaborative Report.” You wouldn’t guess it from the title, but it’s filled with interesting information.
How the game is played
Developers, in their own literature, acknowledge the resistance they face in many communities to wind turbines. In order to head this off and keep any opposition from gaining traction, they offer this rather fascinating advice:
- Review the community, investigating the landscape thoroughly in order to anticipate project opposition.
- Cultivate local champions
- Avoid the unenviable position as primary promoter
- Dress appropriately for farmers and rural citizens, no expensive suits
- Recognize suburban style residential growth with commuter populations unsympathetic to economic hardships encountered by resident farmers
- Provide tools for local government without the expertise to address the technical issues or sometimes emotionally charged concerns about wind turbines
- Consider compensating non-hosting neighbors, especially if they are in a position to influence the permitting process and also consider payments to local government
- Identify willing landowners and discuss permitting concerns with local government officials before making a public announcement to facilitate an orderly exchange of information free from the pressure of potentially emotional public gatherings. Work quietly to identify local concerns and permitting requirements.
from Part 1, Section A, pdf pages 53-57
Stay out of the spotlight
While there has been some coverage in the Erie newspaper, the previous 2 1/2 years has been relatively quiet, giving the developers plenty of time to hold meetings with land owners and government officials. One area farmer seems to be the “local champion,” so the developers can avoid the “unenviable position as primary promoter.” That local face on the project gives the appearance of a process driven as much by local individuals as a Texas based wind developer.
Divide the community
The report, as noted above, points out “suburban style residential growth” as a potential problem and implies a lack of concern from the residents living in those subdivisions for the plight of the farmer. We’ve never noted any such thing, in fact there is a strong feeling of community in North East and when similar statements about subdivisions begin appearing during discussion of wind turbines, it’s so surprising, one wonders if an attempt is being made to create an artificial division in this community where none exists.
The mere fact that we’re already considering setback requirements for these turbines shows the developers have used their time wisely while out of the public eye. Beyond discussions and helpful advice, they’ve already arranged a tour of a New York wind installation for local officials, yet the rest of us are working hard to get up to speed.
A new playbook is needed
Local landowners and township officials are doing their best to make good decisions while dealing with a wind developer with no long term interest in North East.
It may be time to change the playbook to one where the entire community is involved. There should be no more meetings or presentations by Pioneer Green Energy with anyone unless they are open to the public with an opportunity to ask questions. Any local ordinances on this issue need public participation and input and sufficient time for everyone to see the proposal and respond.
It’s our community, it’s up to us.