A fair wind blows

Windfarm developers must act early to get local communities on board to support a project – and communications must be extensive, honest and effective, says Caroline Matthews.

As I write, protest marches are going on in the UK in opposition to plans for two different windfarms – in Scotland and North Devon. To many people, wind power is still seen as ineffective, noisy and expensive.
We understand from industry research that only 8-16 per cent of residents around an affected area tend to oppose windfarms. However, this is still a portion of the population that needs to be brought on board if a project is to succeed. Concerns often focus on how the windfarm will look, how noisy the turbines will be, how it will affect property prices and whether it will have an impact on an area’s tourism.
A good marketing campaign is vital to make everyone in an area affected by a wind development aware of just what the project will involve, and to address their concerns. This should reduce the number of opponents.
Having created marketing campaigns for two major UK windfarms – London Array in the Thames Estuary and Navitus Bay Wind Park off the south coast – we appreciate that the public consultation process is critical for any large wind power project. It gives local communities a chance to have their say on plans and allows them to see how the project is developing. The more opportunities the public have to contribute and raise issues, the happier all those involved can be with the finished development.
At the consultation stage, the marketing campaign and branding perform several functions. Most importantly, they define the developer’s values, ethos and character. Used consistently for all communication, people can learn to recognise those values and grow to trust the developer.
Any campaign must include clear plans and facts, presented in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. These should set aside the myths surrounding windfarms and put residents’ minds at ease.
Another vital marketing aspect is to form two-way communication between the community and the developer, which can’t be done through irregular announcements and online forms. Instead, the best practice is to keep residents updated through events and a range of communication channels.
This allows everyone to voice their opinions and be informed of any updates. It’s key to work together and make sure residents know that developers are interested in their concerns.
Public input can be sought from consultation events, public libraries, town halls, online or by post and email. Through this process, a much richer knowledge of the local area can be built up, which works to the advantage of all involved. The consultation results should be worked into communication material, so people and organisations outside the immediate area know what’s happening.
Some windfarm developments are joint ventures between household names and renewable energy specialists. This creates both the challenge and the benefit of starting from scratch but within an established brand. In a recent development, for example, the consistency of the brand representing the joint venture, with its recognisable and well-defined values, helped to give a face to the partnership. However, awareness of the project needed to be raised and lines of two-way communication opened up with a cautious community.
Other developments have other specific marketing requirements and challenges. London Array, a partnership between three leading energy giants, forms part of the UK’s plans to lead the global field in offshore wind farm development. It needed the brand to not only reflect this on an international
scale but also to help raise its profile in the local community and with potential suppliers.
As windfarms become ever more popular, an increasing number of challenges will arise as more communities will need to be consulted. In such a critical situation, energy companies and developers must be incredibly careful with how they position their brands and campaigns.
Caroline Matthews, account marketing director at creative agency Michon