Written by: Charlie Palmer, Practice Leader, Environmental Impact Assessment and Cheryl Forner, Senior Human Environment Specialist
As most of us know, effective and meaningful engagement is fundamental to the success of any renewable energy project. Working collaboratively with those affected by the development of a renewable energy project is key to its success and can add value to the planning, construction, and operation phases for the owner.
In this article, we discuss the benefits of engagement for the owner as well as for local individuals, communities and businesses.
Start engagement early
Whether or not engagement is a legislated requirement for your project (in most jurisdictions, it is), taking steps towards meaningful engagement is a best practice and provides benefits beyond meeting project approval requirements.
Engagement works best when it begins early in the project planning process, ideally as soon as preliminary information is ready to provide to host communities. Starting early supports project transparency and enables host communities and other interested parties to better engage with project planning and for owners to hear their opinions as part of the planning process.
People who live, play, work and own businesses in the area around a proposed project know the local environment and can support project decision–making through their firsthand knowledge of the physical, cultural and business environments. Their lived context can support site decisions, construction methods, contracting and hiring practices, as well as community benefit decisions.
An example is a wind farm construction project we worked on, which benefited hugely from the involvement of local contractors. Their knowledge of the best local road building methods helped to avoid a site shutdown during an extreme rain event that forced a construction stoppage on neighbouring sites.
Establishing an effective engagement process
The key to successful engagement is to provide effective ways for individuals and communities to connect with project owners. Meaningful engagement requires adopting active listening practices and the deliberate incorporation of what has been learned into project design, construction, and operation.
We’ve seen the best results from engagement when the owner designates one experienced contact person for the community to connect with — a consistent presence with authority to speak for and make commitments on behalf of the owner. It’s also crucial that owners follow-up with individuals, community leaders and others who have engaged with the project and who have provided input. Staying connected gives the community confidence that you’re serious about wanting to hear what they have to say and about becoming part of the community you’re asking to host your project.
Tailor-made engagement strategies
Hemmera tailors engagement strategies to each project that we work on and for each community that our clients and we work in. We know that what works in one region or local environment may not be the best course of action somewhere else, or that engagement for a project in more of an urban area isn’t necessarily appropriate for one in a rural community or an Indigenous community.
We also know that incorporating local capacity building, business opportunities and employment are often key components to project success. Local businesses can provide the provision of services like snow clearing and road maintenance and, given their proximity to the project, they can deliver these types of services more efficiently and at a lower cost than imported service providers. We’ve developed remote oversight methods, including using tablets to reduce the costs of professional biologists being on site, and allow for Indigenous and other local individuals to get involved in monitoring – with no loss in service quality and cost savings.
For many years we’ve also seen community engagement built into the ownership structure of renewable energy projects, including shared ownership and/or profit-sharing arrangements, making early and continuous engagement even more critical to the project’s success.
At Hemmera, we also help owners get more involved in their host communities. We know from experience the benefits of owners participating in local events, sporting activities, and community beautification initiatives before and well after the project enters the operation phase. Our team of engagement practitioners support owners in becoming an integral part of the communities where they do business. We work collaboratively with owners to design and execute engagement programs that are locally specific and sustainable.
Our next article in this series looks at solving renewable energy challenges with wildlife such as raptors and bats.
Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments, and associated transmission projects. For more than two decades, our talented, dedicated and experienced impact assessment teams have supported many of Canada’s largest and most challenging projects. Our depth of experience and multi-disciplinary approach allow us to steer projects through the complex assessment and regulatory processes – on time and on budget.
Other articles in the series:
- Understanding environmental risks early in a project and planning for successful operation
- Regional Differences in Environmental Assessments for Renewables
- Understanding your EA commitments and how they impact construction and operation