[gallery] I am returning to Detroit this evening by way of Via Rail, from Toronto. I was in Toronto for an invitation only road show by Vestas Wind. Vestas is a Danish manufacturer, seller, installer, and servicer of wind turbines. Those attending the day long event were financiers, developers, consultants, academics and government officials from Ontario. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the potential of off shore wind in the Great Lakes, an issue I just completed a project for with South Point Wind -- an off shore wind project proposal in Lakes Erie and St. Clair.
The discussion centered on the need to create a "New Frontier" to create energy independence for Canada and the United States. Vestas has been in this industry for 30 years and installed their first off shore wind turbine in 1990. They know the industry and the opportunities the Great Lakes provide in terms of transitioning to sources of renewable energy.
However, as we have learned from current initiatives now under way on Michigan's west coast and in Ontario, to begin this process it is vital to engage key stakeholders from the start. This includes the First Nation's in Canada and Native American's in the U.S., government officials from the local state/provincial and federal levels, industry, academics, suppliers, labor, local communities, the media and others in the process.
From the initial stages of a project such as off shore wind, it is vital that the developers of the project engage the community in a discussion of what they seek to accomplish. In fact, funding from investors or others may hinge upon their strategic communications plan.
Project organizers should understand that they will not convince everyone on the merits of their project, but they can start early, by creating the messages to convey while avoiding rumors and dispelling myths. This includes meeting with local officials to gain their input and support, editors of local papers and the other dailies. In meeting with the community at-large, it is important to make sure that you also have the people financing or backing the project, your legal team, lobbyists, consultants and the appropriate government officials available to answer questions and address concerns. In bringing "the team" together and in front of the community, developers will eliminate any question about transparency, will aptly address any concern by the community, and will go along way in developing relationships with those they intend to invest in.