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DOE Funds Consensus Building Institute to Host Facilitating Wind Energy Siting Workshop: A Wind Powering America Success Story

March 8, 2012

In March 2011, the Consensus Building Institute (CBI), in conjunction with Raab Associates Ltd., hosted a 3-day Facilitating Wind Energy Siting Workshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The event was a culmination of work that began in 2009 when the group received $99,785 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under a competitive funding opportunity announcement to address market and deployment challenges identified in DOE's 2008 report "20% Wind Energy by 2030."

CBI received 260 applications to participate in the event, and from these applications 100 attendees representing 16 states were selected. Participants included non-governmental organizations, as well as government and private-sector stakeholders.

According to Patrick Field, managing director of North American Programs at CBI, the event was developed to address issues relating to the public acceptance of wind projects to further the renewable energy technology.

"The workshop sought to build the capacity of state officials to collaborate effectively with diverse stakeholders to advance wind development policy, facility siting, and energy transmission," Field said. "To develop workshop content, CBI and Raab Associates interviewed leaders in the wind energy field on challenges and opportunities for wind energy siting. We also solicited, researched, and developed case studies. Drawing from this research and our own knowledge of renewable energy siting and collaborative problem solving, we framed five key problems facing wind energy stakeholders."

The five problems are engagement, visual impacts, noise, lack of credible facts, and a need to share community benefits.

"Siting of wind turbines, either as part of larger wind farms or even community-based projects, will always impact local communities, some positively and some negatively," said Ian Baring-Gould, national technical director of the Wind Powering America initiative. "Working with communities to provide credible information and allow local leaders and residents to understand these impacts is critical to allowing a supportive discussion of new projects. Discussions like those held during this workshop are critical to informing these issues and providing strong lessons on how to move forward in what can be contentious dialogs."

"We also designed and tested skill-building exercises and role-play simulations based on the cases that we researched. The final curriculum included a pedagogical discussion of the 'problem' and strategies for addressing it, followed by a combination of case discussion and interactive skill-building exercises," Field said.

Field believes that stakeholders should realize and pay attention to the following do's and don'ts:

  • 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 questions to be answered. Let the stakeholders 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.
  • Don't surprise people and announce plans to build a project without giving everyone in the area a chance to offer input on whether and how a project should be built. It's better to have several siting choices ready, rather than just one.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about the ways in which the profits from a wind energy project might be shared with the community. Joint ventures are easier to negotiate than hostile takeovers, and some members 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.
  • Don't assume that the media will cover the "whole" story and present all viewpoints.

Results of the workshop were recently presented during a January 18, 2012 Wind Powering America webinar titled Recent Market Acceptance Activities. More information is available on CBI's Facilitating Wind Energy Siting Workshop Web page, including workshop presentations, background information, and additional resources.

—Julie Jones