As part of our interview series with Offshore Wind’s (OSW) community engagement leaders, we were thrilled to talk with Ashley McLeod. A former executive with the Virginia Maritime Association, a former school teacher and a past school board member. Ashley’s combination of experience has given her an unusually deep understanding of how a local community makes decisions. That’s serving her well in her current role as Director of Stakeholder Engagement for Avangrid Renewables’ Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind Project.
Ashley’s B3Ps (Big Three Points):
- Communications need to be frequent and up-front. Frank, frequent communications with local stakeholders is paramount. If locals don't know you, and they develop a reason not to trust you, it’s almost impossible to secure
their approval for accepting landfall of an offshore wind project.
“Communicate early and often with stakeholders. Be transparent, and never, ever be afraid to say, ‘I don't know, but I'll get back to you on that’."
- Supply chain players are crucial. Local stakeholders are not the only important people to win over. Potential supply chain players are essential to validate the economic benefits to the local community. That requires being flexible in communication style and approach. You need " that kind of a personality to be able to engage and appreciate all the parts of the supply chain," including truckers and tugboat captains.
“Do you have the ability to talk to truckers? Because at some point in time, we're going to depend on them. Can you go and hang out with and talk to a tugboat captain? It’s important to cover the entire spectrum, making sure that you have that kind of a personality to be able to engage and appreciate all the parts of the supply chain.”
- Lean into virtual community relations, because it’s here to stay. The pandemic has forced people to make the leap and to embrace remote/virtual engagement. As a sector, OSW should lean into that reality. After all, it enables speaking to a wider audience faster and more efficiently. And, we're never going back to just face-to-face, even though it’s ideal. We’ll emerge post-pandemic with a hybrid model, so get familiar with virtual outreach.
“In the past, I could spend a few hours to drive down to Corolla [NC] to meet with some stakeholders, then back to Virginia Beach, then a few hours’ drive to Richmond. Now I can engage with them one right after the other, without that two-hour gap in between travel time…. I think we'll go back doing 75% old-school traditional because we thrive on each other's energy…. But for many people who weren’t able to actually go to the face-to-face town halls, we've now sped up the process of making sure it's available for them.
See the excerpts of our conversation below.