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Scaling Clean

Of all the people we’ve interviewed for the Not Just for NIMBY series, Enel Green Power’s Nick Coil has probably spent the most time in rural communities engaged in… well, community engagement. He shared other interviewees’ views on the increasing difficulty of community relations, the dominance of Facebook in rural communities and the criticality of using social media as part of a community relations program. But Nick had some sophisticated observations and tactical recommendations that made this interview particularly useful for other wind IPPs.

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Social “needs to connect to community values”

You could argue that E.ON’s Kevin Gresham has the broadest perspective on renewable energy public affairs in the U.S. Active for years on the boards of AWEA, SEIA and ACORE, he’s as likely to be walking the halls of Congress as he is working legislators in statehouses in any of the approximately 20 states in which E.ON operates. My colleague, Mark Sokolove, sat down with Kevin during the WINDPOWER trade show in Houston to talk about both the current and ideal roles for digital platforms in building community acceptance for wind projects. (E.ON is a client of Tigercomm.)

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Digital tools can de-risk projects, but, “we have ceded a lot of our thought leadership to folks who oppose us”

Adam Renz is one of a handful of people who have been an institutional communicator at two major wind IPPs – first EDP Renewables, then Pattern Energy. We were excited to tap the perspective of this wind industry veteran, and his thoughtful commentary didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was difficult narrowing our interview with Adam down to three big points.

Adam agreed with others we’ve interviewed on the dominance of Facebook in rural communities, the costs of neglecting social media tools and the ability of negative attention paid to one project affecting the fate of others. However, he had far more to say beyond what we recap below. So we encourage you to read the full transcript of Adams’ comments.

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Pine River Wind Park. Credit Mark Houston, DTE Energy.

One of the highlights of our WINDPOWER trade show experience was getting to talk with industry leaders working to secure support in communities with proposed wind farms. As part of our “Not Just for NIMBYs” interview series, we spoke with our first IOU leader, DTE Manager of Renewable Energy Development Matt Wagner. His company has gone from one of the most coal-intensive utilities to one that’s leading the way to a clean energy future. DTE has developed, owns and operates over one gigawatt of wind energy, and it recently committed to an 80% reduction in its corporate carbon footprint.

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“It was almost like companies were embarrassed to admit that they had any opponents. Those days are gone. Everybody has opponents.”

“Companies have not been investing enough in this very important area, because they haven’t been taking the risk as seriously as is appropriate.”

The annual WINDPOWER trade show and conference starts today. We’re kicking the week off with the second in our series of interviews with wind industry leaders who drive their company’s engagement of communities that host wind farms. We started the series with an interesting discussion with Avangrid’s Paul Copleman. This week, we’re featuring our recent conversation with Apex Clean Energy’s Vice President for Public Affairs, Dahvi Wilson. 

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Today, we’re continuing our discussion series on the use of digital tools to build community acceptance by wind energy independent power producers (IPPs). We’re pleased to do that with our friend, Paul Copleman, Director of Communications with Avangrid Renewables. Paul’s company is one of the leading renewable energy IPPs with large asset bases both in the U.S. and across the globe.

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A big development in clean energy advocacy recently took place, and odds are you haven't heard about it.

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According to a recent TechCrunch story, "when untruthful information is immediately corrected in a news story," it doesn't fix the effect. In fact, a new study concludes, calling out false information can paradoxically make users “more resistant to factual information." Or, as the TechCrunch article puts it: "The more truth we read, the more we tend to believe strongly held lies."

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I’ve been a fan of Southwest Airlines for years. It’s not luxury, but it usually gets you there with a passenger-friendly, problem-solving approach to customers’ needs. But here’s a standout exception that suggests that even Southwest can be careless with its brand: Just try to get them to stop sending you junk mail.

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It’s hard to argue with the idea that energy efficiency is the most under-told part of America’s clean energy economy, despite the efforts to date of some pretty smart, committed people. We could go such a long way to cutting our use of the most destructive forms of energy and addressing global climate disruption if we just stopped wasting so much.


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Introducing: Deep Accountability

by Mike Casey on 1/2/12 5:55 AM5 min. read

This is the first in a series of occasional posts I’m writing to grow an idea I’m calling “Deep Accountability.”

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A few weeks ago, my Tigercomm colleague Mark Sokolove and I were able to take Scaling Green’s Communicating Energy lecture series on the road to the Solar Power International 2011 (SPI) conference and trade show in Dallas, Texas. While there, we spoke with several leaders in the solar and cleantech industries. You can read about and view the interviews on The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) National Solar Jobs Census 2011 – a census showing record jobs growth in the industry - on Scaling Green. Today, we turn our focus to the wildly inflated Solyndra story.

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Cross posted from the Great Energy Challenge blog

What wasn’t to dislike about the spectacle of this summer’s recently concluded budget battle? There was the impending economic disaster, the Full Monty on just how dysfunctional Congress has gotten, and the outsized role given by those operating on the political fringe.

But for clean energy advocates, there was another reason to throw the remote at the TV: Pro-clean energy elected officials missed the opportunity to cut government handouts to fossil energy companies.

I’m no budget expert, but when we need to cut a lot of spending, shouldn’t we cut the really big stuff that people dislike anyway? Nothing qualifies for that category like the combined welfare check we cut each year to the oil, coal and gas industries: $52 billion a year according to the most comprehensive count to date. For those in elected office trying to scale the clean economy, shouldn’t kicking these highly profitable, mature industries off the dole have been a policy and political no-brainer?

The answer given by Democratic pollster Mike Bocian is an unqualified “yes.” (See video above.) Bocian, now with GBA Strategies, spoke at our Communicating Energy lecture series before the budget standoff hit its climax. His message was the same I heard echoed roughly a week later by top Republican pollster Neil Newhouse: Cutting government handouts to big oil companies is a political winner with practically no electoral downside.

By similarly large majorities of over 70 percent, Americans want to cut the massive government welfare check fossil energy, and they want the relatively inexpensive federal policy support for clean energy left alone. Plenty of Republicans around the country want this waste ended, and we ought to have the two political parties racing to see who can cut the most from the handouts to fossil energy.

But the plans offered by Congressional Republicans – the “Ryan Plan,” named for author Rep. Paul Ryan (WI); or the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan from Speaker Boehner –would have done exactly the opposite. For President Obama and other clean energy advocates, this gap created an opportunity to put small government advocates in the position of defending large, unpopular forms of government waste.

However, whether you’re marketing products or policies, busy Americans want things bottom-lined. You just can’t win their attention without message discipline, simplicity, repetition, and the plain language that connects to where their attitudes are.

To win the budget fight in the court of public opinion, each side –President Obama and his staff on one side, and Speaker Boehner and his caucus on the other – should have been trying to boil this messy situation down to a bottom line, anchored by key phrase.

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Cross posted from The Great Energy Challenge.

Just as the traditional news media began its current freefall of layoffs, staff cuts, closures, and substitution of ideology for journalism, The New York Times, thank goodness, decided to double down on good (albeit not perfect) journalism.

That's why it’s baffling to see a dirty energy front group operative, Robert Bryce, getting a seat last week next to Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof on the Times’ opinion page, with a piece of pro-dirty energy propaganda, without having to say if he’s paid by dirty energy.

I remember from journalism school that opinion pages are run separately from the news pages. But is it really that hard for someone on the Times’ opinion page staff to ask Bryce where his host organization, the Manhattan Institute, gets its money? Don’t Times readers deserve to know that the Manhattan Institute gets a significant amount of money from dirty energy?

I’m not even expecting that the Times actually demand a factual grounding for the opinion pieces it runs. That seems to have gone out of style a while ago. The Washington Post demonstrated this new normal with its tortured sidestepping of questions about why it let columnist George Will demonstrably lie about the wide and deep scientific consensus around global climate disruption. Basically, it seems that you can lie without consequence on the nation’s most influential opinion pages.

But Bryce got away with something much more preventable: pretending he’s some sort of intellectually honest thinker when his organization has ties to dirty energy money that no one bothered to note.

The ease with which intellectual burglars like Bryce can break into the major media’s house of standards is why dirty energy underwrites dozens of PR firms masquerading as think tanks. And they have done so for decades, going back to the call to start farming these groups in the 1971 Powell Manifesto. The result is what can be described as a Front Group Industrial Complex for polluting industries, a network including the Manhattan InstituteCato InstituteCompetitive Enterprise InstituteCitizens for a Sound Economy, and the Institute for Energy Research.

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Today, the cleantech sector – renewables, green transportation, green buildings, electric motors, energy efficiency - is finally growing fast enough to pose a serious, market-disrupting competitor to traditional, status-quo industries, such as coal and oil. The dirty energy lobby doesn’t like it one bit. It has launched a concerted campaign of attacks through heavy spending an array of front groups to undercut the popularity and viability of solar, wind and energy efficiency as foundational parts of our energy future.

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The Wind’s at the Back of Offshore Wind

by Mike Casey on 11/29/10 6:14 AM3 min. read

Last week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar launched his ‘Smart from the Start’ Atlantic OCS Offshore Wind Initiative, Its objective is to “speed up development of wind energy by searching the Atlantic Coast for the most desirable places to build windmills rather than wait for developers to propose sites that could hurt the environment or sit in the middle of a shipping lane."

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Looking for the Public Outrage

by Mike Casey on 7/14/10 9:01 AM2 min. read

Monday’s Washington Post piece, “Historic oil spill fails to produce gains for U.S. environmentalists was right, but not complete. So far, the BP oil disaster has brought tar balls and Tony Hayward into the public arena, but it has not brought about the dramatic sea change needed to move America to a clean energy future.

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A recent REW post by SolarFred highlights the latest legislative efforts by dirty energy lobbyists to stop the growth of solar, wind and clean energy industries that Americans favor by more than 90 percent.

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Senator Byrd: His Legacy vs. His Vision

by Mike Casey on 6/28/10 2:28 PM2 min. read

Senator Robert Byrd passed away early this morning, just days after a study showing that coal is a money loser for his home state of West Virginia.

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