EDPR NA Energy Insight

Listening First: The Critical Role of Communities in Renewable Energy Development

May 25, 2023

When EDP Renewables North America develops a wind farm, solar park, or battery storage project, we’re committing to being an energy provider, an employer, and a neighbor for the next few decades. Cultivating open, trusting relationships with the communities who host our projects is more than just a nice-to-have aspiration– it is vital to how we do business as a long-term owner-operator.

As the Community Relations Manager for EDPR NA, my team’s sole focus is establishing and strengthening relationships between communities and EDPR, starting at the beginning of development and continuing through a project’s operational life. We work with development teams on their initial outreach materials and informational tools to aid in their lease discussions with landowners, devise community engagement plans to suit the needs of individual project communities based on the upcoming permitting milestones and community priorities, collaborate with Operations teams to support organizations meaningful to their fellow community members, and much more.

For many, the topic of renewable energy feels like a political issue that immediately polarizes people. Back when the first wind farms were starting to come online more than 20 years ago, we had Operations Managers who were nervous about enrolling their children in the local schools or sharing what they did for work with prospective landlords due to the immediate barriers and negativity they would face.

Seeing energy – something we all rely on, regardless of our side of the aisle – as inherently political may create needless barriers that obstruct genuine exchanges of information and perspectives, blocking communities and developers from getting on the same page. The central mission of Community Relations at EDPR NA is to give project teams the tools and strategies to get past those barriers and cultivate an environment that allows for open, good-faith conversations with the residents who will live alongside our projects to determine how we can move forward in a way that works for all parties involved. We can only achieve a clean energy future if we work together and have the agility to navigate challenges along the way.

An essential part of this collaboration is understanding that we are the newcomers, and it’s our job to seek guidance from local stakeholders. The priorities of a 50,000-person metropolitan area suburb are naturally quite different than those of a 2,000-person midwestern farm town a few hours from the nearest airport. Because of this, my team meets with landowners, community leaders, and local governments to listen first. Once we’ve heard about the community’s goals, priorities, and uncertainties, we can build a better project to serve all our needs.

At the beginning of 2023, I spearheaded a new program at EDPR NA to help jumpstart these community relationships more effectively. As a result, nearly every development project will hire a local Community Relations Coordinator (CRC) to educate us on their community and help connect us with the stakeholders whose voices still need to be heard. Our first CRCs have been working in communities in northeast Texas and eastern Indiana, identifying individuals our development teams need to meet with, events we should have an informational booth at, organizations we should donate to, and providing us invaluable direction on how we can better collaborate with their hometowns.

Developing wind farms and solar parks is a two-way street – we build a safe, expertly designed project to strengthen the electric grid with reliable, clean domestic energy. By working with us, communities gain millions of dollars in taxes to strengthen local infrastructure, a massive economic boost during construction that will ripple through the area businesses, and skilled trade jobs for local residents in a growing, high-demand field right in their community.

With any significant change, there are always challenges to work through, concerns to discuss, and people who aren’t in favor. We’re not expecting smooth sailing all the time or to win over everyone, but we’re committed to creating trust-based relationships precisely to deal with the rougher currents and get to the other side together.

Community engagement
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Julia McPherson | Community Relations Manager