Nov 8, 2023Liked by Samuel R

Wow this came out at a perfect time. I was just at a great panel yesterday, covering these exact topics, with a university academic focusing on extension around renewable issues in the rural midwest along with somebody who does community engagement for a transmission developer. And honestly, a lot of what they said was far more useful than this episode (which isn't surprising, being aimed at an audience of regulators, developers, and utilities). But to summarize here in case anyone finds these points a useful supplement:

1. It's economic development & you get more friends when you're paying more people

2. Tax benefits exist but they're rarely visible to residents (so township supervisors know, but landowners don't)

one example: Tax base quintupled, only 28% of people thought services improved because all the township did was road maintenance

another case township instituted trash collection, 60% thought services improved

3. "Farmers vs Lakers"--farmers see it as land being productive, "lakers" are residents who may be retirees, WFH folks, or own second homes and are more invested in the rural aesthetics than actually working the land

4. Local officials and landowners think it's hard to get a straight story (Developers talk positives, organized NIMBYs only want to talk negatives)--who's a trusted source?

5. Transparency and opportunity for input is vital in the short term--hear out opponents EARLY--but it also builds trust and acceptance in the long run.

People need to feel like the process was fair and that they had AGENCY in it

If you feel the process was unfair you grow more embittered

6. Communities feel that they're shouldering a burden for somebody else--coasts, urban centers, etc

I'd highly recommend anyone interested in this read the book "Powerline" by Paul Wellstone. It covers the fight over a HVDC line in Minnesota in the 70s, where the communities felt that the developers and regulators had run roughshod over them to the extent that they committed significant acts of sabotage against the line--shooting out parts of it, damaging towers, etc.

Expand full comment

Greenlight America, founded by Matt Traldi (https://twitter.com/matt_traldi), is attempting to spin up a grassroots organization to help push clean energy projects through the painful local siting/approval processes!

Expand full comment

This takes me back to a funder-provided training in, IDK, 2011 with, whatever you think of him, Frank Luntz. What Frank said then is what I heard from Mike at the end of this great interview. After 14 years advocating in the electric sector, I found myself saying "Amen" repeatedly to Mike's and Robin's points. Highly educated, precision-focused experts nearly always wander into language that only their peers can love and understand. It's easy to let one's fear of not being exactly precise swamp the persuasion we need to accomplish. The lack of industry investment in this essential work is disheartening to say the least. My distilled rejoinder to the RE and NGO communities' all-to-common reflex is "Don't bring a white paper to a knife fight." We gotta quit talking to ourselves - it's a dead end.

Expand full comment

Glad to see this topic discussed. I'm in Canada so I don't have a full grasp of the layout but I understand there are rural co-operatives, often under capitalized, that are electricity providers in many US states. Are there moves to coordinate/invest in clean energy development with those rural co-op operations? Seems like a possible social/political/techno win win win. David R, how about a podcast on how the US electricity co-operatives are managing the energy transition?

Growing up in the hicklands of Canada I was acutely aware of the pecking order that privileges urban over rural. When I went to university in the big city I hid my rural accent and ditched a bunch of hick from the sticks sayings to make myself less a target of derision. This even though in Canada just about every progressive social safety net we have in the country, including old age pensions, the national pension plan, hospital insurance and our national medicare coverage came out of knockdown political battles in the Canadian prairies, especially Saskatchewan, the most agrarian and for decades the poorest province in Canada.

But present day Saskatchewanites have veered far right politically. My grandfather, who fought all his life for community credit unions, co-operative grain marketing, medicare, etc., is turning in his grave. The left in Canada has completely lost touch with rural citizens, as in the US and so many other countries. That gets in the way of the energy transition and so many other progressive causes.

Expand full comment

Very important effort. Some of what they say seems disconnected from what I see and hear and understand, but mostly good points. Opposing wind and solar has become almost religious for a lot of folks, but maybe they are the very noisy 20% or so MAGA GOP. They were defeated on Tuesday in NJ where some of the election hinged on support or opposition to offshore wind and Democrats gained five seats or so.

Mike or Robin mentioned "energy independence" and "lower utility bills." The former was a pitch we could make in the 80s, but not anymore, in fact the O&G is "American oil from American soil," and significant components of renewables are foreign. On the latter, yes, residents near solar and wind farms should get cheap electricity when the sun is shining and wind is blowing. The developers should assist them to electrify to act as "sponges," when the the output might otherwise be curtailed. But instead, the Euro developer is selling a PPA or RECs to Amazon or Google or GM or some other far away entity via some big utility's transmission, and the local REA Co-op may not be involved at all.

I would love to hear a pod with someone from Octopus Energy. Look up their "Fan Club" which gives nearby residents half price electricity when the wind is over 10 knots or something. In a few areas, even free electricity during over-generation. (https://octopus.energy/power-ups/) They provide a whole suite of DER control services to maximize TOU benefits. They've developed their own heat pump now. UK company, but also in TX. They also have a "fun" PR vibe. Apparently they have also been able to drum up a lot of support for wind which may have substantially contributed to lifting the UK's onshore wind ban a few months ago. E.g. https://octopus.energy/octopus-collective/

And alas, it sounds like I should get on Facebook, instead of bloviating here.

Expand full comment

No, you also get cheap energy when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. Partly because you can time shift a lot of your electricity consumption. E.g. pumping water up hills (e.g. to pressurize water systems) accounts for about 8% of California electricity consumption, and that consumption is easily shiftable. Which then allows one to get rid of the most expensive, dirtiest, night-time energy suppliers.

Expand full comment

Maybe I missed something, but I don’t recall any discussion about the typical size & location of rural solar & wind farms. Wind farms obviously are more geographically constrained and usually large enough to require substantial existing nearby transmission capacity. Solar farms can be much more variable in size & location, and can benefit from being co-located with wind farms or other power generation facilities to better utilize transmission. Both are located at some distance from higher population demand and are generally highly dependent on existing transmission capacity interconnections.

Has anyone researched the anticipated build-out of rural solar farms versus the anticipated potential of solar parking lot canopies & freeway right-of-way solar in (sub)urban locations? The advantages of (sub)urban solar would include no new, or much reduced, site acquisition, site improvement and transmission spending. And although there are NIMBYS everywhere, there are probably relatively few opposing solar parking lot canopies on pre-existing parking lots or beside freeways. Other (sub) urban benefits include rapidly flipping commercial property to NetZero and creating a matrix of reliable neighborhood micro grids and publicly accessible BEV charging infrastructure.

Expand full comment

One thing to highlight from my experience: greenfield developers and the eventual asset owners are often not one and the same. As a serial developer in a particular region, I have all the incentive both professionally and personally to employ all the good ideas in the podcast. I’ve been working in the same community for over 10 years. But once we sell a project it will be owned by a large asset owner – a hedge fund or a deregulated utility arm and some of those projects have been resold a few times. Point being, the long term owners in my experience don’t have deep roots in the community and I haven’t had a lot of luck getting enticing them into or seeing evidence of meaningful community involvement. Nevertheless, I persist!

In good news, I participate in a non-profit that was started by the counties that originally benefited from the wind boom in Oregon. The members are mainly county commissioners and judges. It’s a great place to fill your cup of optimism that renewable development is welcomed and encouraged and the benefits can be meaningful to rural communities. In the last meeting I attended one county rep reminded us that his county went from 35th to 4th per capita income in Oregon. (Everyone gets a direct annual payment from renewable energy revenues.) I also see counties being more proactive in saying where and how they would like to see the development.

…and for a dose of good vibes, this movie is worth the 30 minutes: https://www.othersideofthehillmovie.com/ One of the elk hunters featured in the movie has been a rural thought leader on renewable energy and has helped me out with testimony for some permits … and he’s all around great human.

Expand full comment

A couple of points from this pod…

First, in my experience in trying to get people to change, the initial steps are to treat people with respect and listen. Don’t talk. Listen. Leverage empathy by putting yourself in other’s shoes and get to know what motivates them. If you treat people with respect and address what motivates them, there’s a good chance, they will move in a direction that is in their best interest. Of course this takes time. And if we are talking about business projects, such time needs to be part of the project’s plan and timeline.

And a minor and picky point…I didn’t like the talk about a renewable energy museum. To me, that promotes divisiveness. The symbolism is an us vs them situation which is something to be avoided.

Expand full comment

"And that is that they're decidedly downbeat. I mean, half think that the country is off on the wrong track"

Do they really think that? We know that there is a huge gap between the personal economic outlook of Republicans and their National economic outlook. Because of Fox News. Are they downbeat about what is happening to them? or are they downbeat about what they think is happening to someone else?

Expand full comment

At one point the gentleman guest said rural people think “coastal elites look down on them”.

Comment: only because Fox et al tell them that relentlessly.

Also, wouldn’t some of these ideas by great for Democrats to gain more traction (and votes) in rural areas?!!

Expand full comment

Excellent episode! Really exciting ideas.

Expand full comment