Thursday, April 16, 2009, 10:17 AM

Renewable energy's grassroots problem

(Photo credit: The Washington Post)
We have blogged before about the paradox facing renewable energy companies, and it doesn't appear to be going away. At the national level, these companies are hailed as a critical component to reducing America's carbon footprint and its dependence on foreign sources of oil.

The view at the local level, however, is quite different. As The Washington Post points out today, renewable energy companies often face stiff resistance from local activists who view their projects as threats to parks, vistas, and property values. The resistance doesn't only come from organized environmental groups; often it's a small group of concerned neighbors determined to make a difference.

The lesson is that energy companies can no longer rely on the environmental virtues of their product to garner public support. These virtues rarely have immediate, tangible benefits for the communities that are impacted by the construction of large wind farms, solar farms, or biofuel manufacturing plants. My experience is those neighbors are more concerned about the project's impact on their home's value, the view out their window, or noise pollution in the neighborhood.

Establishing an aggressive grassroots communications plan is a good place to start for companies with projects in the pipeline, including community advisory panels, outreach to local press, local philanthropy, and websites designed to educate the community. It's never too early to start planning.

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