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In renewable energy project development, the messenger matters.

on • 3 min. read

How recent news is tightening the screen on who rural Americans will listen to.

#Cleantechers, if you run point on community engagement for a renewable energy developer or EPC, you already know your work is harder than it was even a few years ago.

Several factors have combined to harden the landscape you’re working on:

1) Standard development practices, combined with occasional missteps by some developers, can trigger community suspicions.

2) Polarized political landscape in deeply “red” host communities.

  • Residents associate renewables with Biden, “woke” liberals, ESG.
  • This limits use of green allies, pro-climate messaging.

3) Enough online disinformation has amassed that the case against renewables seems “proven.”

4) Expansion of development – Development began in states where people view land as a usable resource (TX). It then expanded into places that view land as an asset to conserve (NY).

5) Anti-renewables operatives funded by fossil fuel lobby work unchecked, sowing discontent.

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The current landscape of renewable energy community acceptance.


Note factor two. The indictment of Trump will likely tighten the screen these voters use to select information voices they will trust for their information – including when it comes to your renewable energy project.

In this story from NPR, long-time Republican pollster Sarah Longwell of the Republican Accountability Project has tracked attitudes of voters who supported Trump in both 2016 and 2020. Longwell finds that Trump’s recent indictment has shut down these voters’ consideration of GOP alternatives to Trump for president because they don’t trust anyone but him to tell them the truth.

LONGWELL: “Well, I was listening to the voter conversation. And there was this striking moment to me where they were asked if they have any faith in the Justice Department, the FBI or any government entity to investigate Trump fairly. Take a listen to this exchange.”
VOTER #1: “Who do you trust to lead investigations against Trump?”
VOTER #2: “Nobody in government right now, nobody.” [Emphasis added]

And these voters’ circle-the-wagon reaction will not stop at the shoreline of their presidential vote. It will extend to other issues… like your project.   

To be clear, I offer no comment on indictments or particular presidential candidates. I'm only discussing the dynamics you face in rural communities as our sector asks them to host a huge wave of new solar or wind farms.

The bottom line is this. These voters will only consider your message if it comes from a messenger they find credible. Of our six big barriers to clean energy transition – supply chains, transmission, storage, workforce development, critical minerals and permitting – permitting is the surest transition killer. And you can’t reach rural Americans with your message unless it comes from a voice they trust.

Right now, the industry doesn’t know which messenger to use. That means communicating without the right messenger is wasteful at best, destructive at worst. Understanding the right messengers to use is the most immediate challenge community acceptance has.