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We Talk Community Acceptance With EDF's Christine Karlovic

7 min. read

“We have to stop being afraid of using social media to communicate.”

We’ve known EDF Renewables’ Christine Karlovic for almost 10 years. When she agreed to about talk community acceptance with us, we jumped at the chance because she and her company have deep experience building community acceptance across North America. EDF Renewables has developed 16GW of renewable energy, with over 1,100 North American employees and bringing another 24GW of projects through their company’s pipeline.


Our big takeaways from our conversation with Christine:

  • The noise and acrimony of social media conversations are a historical deterrent to a number of wind companies. But those that sit out the digital conversation are doing a disservice to themselves and the industry.

  • Christine advocates increased use of project-specific Facebook pages so that pages run by NIMBYs aren’t the only place where a community’s conversation about a proposed wind farm happens.

  • However, those pages have to be carefully tended and constantly refreshed with updated content.

  • It’s critical to embrace and address the tough subjects through digital platforms as well as in face-to-face settings.

 

Full Interview:

Mike Casey:               

Welcome back to another edition of Not Just for NIMBYs. It's our ongoing conversation with people who are on the front lines in the wind industry, building support in communities for projects. I'm joined here by a long-time friend of mine, Christine Karlovic, with EDF Renewables North America. They've got over 16 gigawatts that they've developed over a 30-year span. They've [also] got an employee base of 1,100 people throughout North America, and 24 gigawatts in the pipeline. Christine, welcome.

Christine Karlovic:      

Thanks Mike.

Mike Casey:               

So, let me start off with the general question we've been asking a lot of the folks we've talked to: Was there anything in the analysis that you found surprising or important?

Christine Karlovic:      

Nothing that I found surprising. I think it isimportant that as developers, we start using social media tools to reach out to the community and engage with them. If we don't, we will fall behind as the NIMBYs gain access to all these different pages and gain support.

Mike Casey:               

In your view, what's the proper place to see Facebook within the spectrum of digital tools? Our analysis focused on Facebook because of the growth of what are called “news deserts” in the United States. There are now 200 counties that have no local news, and Facebook is really replacing them. But, do you see Facebook as by far and away the lead platform for digital when it comes to community conversations? Or, do you see other platforms as nearly as important?

Christine Karlovic:      

Well, I think Facebook is definitely important. It plays a key role. It's a place for locals to go to one spot for information that they care about, especially when it comes to wind farms. It's a great source of information for them, and it's a great source for them to communicate with one another about what's going on in their community. And, it’s a great place for developers to share the news and be transparent about the project because a lot of the information that they have is typically not correct. It's a good platform for us to be able to correct the misinformation and the news that they're getting. We can't do that with the local news, typically.

Christine Karlovic:      

Social media, in general, is a good platform. There are also other ways of communicating with communities. Sending newsletters out in a digital manner along with setting up project-specific web pages. We don't have project pages for all of our projects, but we do have a page on our own website that is specific to each project that gives the details. And, we try to keep people abreast of what's going on with the project and where we are participating in the community, just so they feel that they're in the know. I think the worst thing we can do is not share the information and keep it close to us, and not get out there publicly because then the community feels like we're hiding from them. I think that's when the community starts to get less engaged and more upset.

Mike Casey:               

If you had to describe to someone in another industry the state of the wind industry’s use of digital tools for community acceptance, how would you describe where we're at right now?

Christine Karlovic:      

I think we've come leaps and bounds in the last 10 years, that's for sure. Even the last five years. Not just on social media, but just the way we gather information for policy initiatives. We can send out a link. Ask people to sign a petition, digitally sign on to support certain policy initiatives, or we can gather information from them. We can survey people. We can ask questions, and we can gather all of these analytics, whereas before, we weren't able to do that. It was a mailed survey, and you were lucky if you got one or two back. Maybe even going out there and knocking on doors.

Christine Karlovic:      

Now there's other ways to communicate and engage the community aside from just social media. There are all these digital tools that we have access to that I think that have changed the way we communicate and engage communities.

Mike Casey:               

And where do you see the opportunities line up for the industry? Several people we've talked to have said – I think it was Dahvi Wilson who probably summed it up best – "Like it or not, all of us in the wind industry are in the digital boat together." Her idea is that problems for one company's project, regardless of where it is, can end up being a problem for projects of other companies because of the virality of online communities. Does that resonate with your experience?

Christine Karlovic:      

Yes, I agree with that. Word travels fast, whether it's digitally or by telephone, and people know each other around the globe. It's very easy for them to find each other with all the digital tools that are available now. Yeah, the digital transformation is here. We have to be on board, or we'll be left behind.

Mike Casey:               

If it were entirely up to you, what changes would you want the industry to make in digital tool use for community engagement? What are three changes you'd like to see?

Christine Karlovic:      

I think we have to stop being afraid of using social media to communicate with the general public about projects that have tough topics. We just have to be open to discuss them and, if we're being honest and truthful, then there is no reason [not] to be able to do that. So, I'd like to see us engage more via social media with the communities.

Christine Karlovic:      

I think it's really great to have pages set up for the projects in the communities. So, there is not just the NIMBYs’ page to go to for information about the project, but there's also the developer's page.

Christine Karlovic:      

The third thing I would say is that if you're going to have social media pages, then post them and keep them updated. Don't let them just live there with old news on them. A lot of pages that are set up haven't had a post in three months, and that's not very engaging.

Mike Casey:               

One more thing we've heard from several participants is the perception that there is an emerging professional class of NIMBY organizers. They might not be rooted to one community or another, but pushback in local communities is not purely local. It is being externally driven or exacerbated. What is your sense of that?

Christine Karlovic:      

This has been going on for years, long before social media. We all know their names out there. The big opposers are not from that local community, but they go into that community and share their information and their belief of what wind is and to taint it and cause lots of problems and cost development companies a lot of money and PR.

Mike Casey:

If you had four wind industry CEOs other than yours who are sitting across the table from you and they collectively said, "Christine, thanks. That's all well and good, but social is messy. It comes with a brand risk because of its permanence and its virality, and the emotional quality to Facebook debates." What would you say to them to persuade them to make those three changes you just articulated?

Christine Karlovic:      

I think it's the fact that when we're not participating, then we're kind of just letting the bad news spider out. We're not doing anything to stop the negativity or the misinformation to spread, and I think that... It's our duty to make sure that we're sharing the right information. That we are putting the right information out there and that we're educating people about what the facts are – and what the facts aren't.

Christine Karlovic:      

I think we're doing a disservice to our business and our industry. We're not doing what we set out to do because at the end of the day it's not just about the bottom line. We actually care about the communities we work in. We want the good for the community. We want them to benefit. We want them to reap the tax revenue benefits. We want them to have landowners and farmer with a steady income.

Christine Karlovic:      

We're there for the benefit of the community. It's not just all about developing the wind project and making the money. We care. So, we have to be transparent and diligent.

Christine Karlovic:      

Not Just For NIMBYs is a really interesting to look at what other developers are doing or not doing on social media to engage communities. I think it's really interesting to see how close we all are in using social media. Just from the report, I mean you can see right there that all of us look like we have the same concerns.

 

 

Topics: Public Affairs