5 pillars of convening for successful energy infrastructure development, from transmission to offshore wind
This post continues Gridworks effort to build understanding and agreement among stakeholders in the West toward needed transmission development. For background on the concepts and challenges articulated in this post we recommend looking at:
As the West grapples with major decisions to site large new power generators to meet our clean energy needs and build more transmission connecting our towns and lives to that power, one commonality across generation and transmission planning stands out: the need to bridge micro community-level engagement with macro policy-level discussions.
Transmission conversations in the West often take place at a macro level—focused on regional cooperation, updates to long-term transmission planning processes, and coordination with resource planning processes. But as recent transmission success stories have shown, the way transmission is approached at the micro community level can make or break its implementation.
Panelists and attendees at Portland’s recent Northwest Offshore Wind Conference, convened by the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust in late February, named similar dynamics in planning for and ultimately building the gargantuan floating wind turbines and associated transmission anticipated for the deep waters off the shore of the Pacific Coast: dispersed permitting and approval processes across multiple jurisdictions, large project costs with unclear local benefits, and numerous impacted groups and organizations each with differing needs and expectations, among others.
We know that years of human effort go into planning our massive infrastructure projects at all stages. Yet without community buy-in, plans fall through. Worse still, when we ignore the input of our most impacted communities, our projects run the risk of perpetuating inequity and harm. So how do we bridge macro policy-level discussions with the micro decision-making processes at the community level?
Gridworks offers five pillars of successful infrastructure development—transmission or power generation—that center convening on both micro and macro issues. These ideas are captured from recent conference discussions and our transmission conversations with Western clean energy advocates:
- Coordinated, community-directed discussions of community benefits to further state and federal goals of energy equity. Community opposition to infrastructure projects can cause local siting and permitting authorities to hit pause on project approvals; moreover burdening communities with unwanted projects that harm more than they help perpetuates equity concerns. The more a community gains and realizes benefits from a project—particularly benefits that are community-defined—and the more a project avoids conflict with community values, the more likely a project is to succeed and to meet stated equity goals. Let’s work together, with communities in leadership to create and define community benefit agreements for transmission and generation projects. What best practices and standards can we create together?
- Distinct, intentional tribal engagement and consultation. Tribal governments are sovereign nations with treaty rights and formal approaches to consultation that are distinct from local community and other advocacy forums. The Pacific Northwest’s hydro development impacted tribes substantially. Will new clean energy infrastructure development perpetuate and repeat harms? We thank the Yurok Tribe for calling us again to do better by ensuring all necessary perspectives are convened and engaged on our energy future.
- Coordinated discussions between jurisdictional state and local planning, regulatory, and siting agencies. The piecemeal nature of siting, permitting, and project approval makes for multiple decision-points at multiple distinct agencies with multiple distinct decision-makers, some of whom are more resourced than others. Convening agencies and authorities to explore and understand the opportunities and implications of a proposed project earlier rather than later can both generate trust and provide opportunity for mutual learning and consideration.
- Collaborative, outcome-oriented developer coordination with decision-makers, interest groups, and communities. When developers understand that their interests are dependent on all interests engaged along the path of project development, they keep outcomes rather than specific plans front and center. Are you a developer who finds community engagement to be a chicken-and-egg scenario? Are you waiting for project approvals to engage? Are you not getting project approvals because you’re not engaging? Advocates at the Northwest Offshore Wind Conference in Portland suggested one creative solution: Developing MOUs with communities, tribes, and interest groups as a precursor to and an intentional promise for holistic engagement once projects advance through initial approvals, such as gaining lease rights to explore off-shore opportunities. What other creative solutions might there be?
- Partnering with communities to highlight local impact in federal and state venues. At increasingly expansive levels of governance—those that reach the macro level—it is challenging for policymakers to keep the local, micro-level concerns in mind. But there are also opportunities to develop local partnerships to bridge macro- and micro-level decision-making as well as opportunities to ensure coordinated, transparent, and tailored communication about local impacts. In our view, federal and state equity goals require thorough consideration of local benefits and burdens so that specific communities do not continue to bear the burdens of “the greater public good.”
Does this approach to infrastructure development resonate with your challenges and needs? We’d love to hear from you. Together, we can uncover collective solutions that have been waiting for us all along.