Wind developers must prepare to adapt projects to win over communities

Rapid wind power expansion must include radical changes to development, cheaper local electricity and jobs for the unemployed, according to leaders at Vattenfall, Valorem and Falck Renewables

Europe… Space for big onshore projects is limited (pic: Candido33/wikimediacommons)
Europe… Space for big onshore projects is limited (pic: Candido33/wikimediacommons)

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Larger projects and longer development timelines mean developers sometimes struggle to engage with local communities as they would like to, industry leaders admitted, warning that the process has to start years before projects get off the ground.

Emphasising the creation of job opportunities, selling electricity at a discount to site neighbours and considering changing the location of a wind farm can make communities more amenable to wind development, according to panellists discussing how to boost project acceptance among communities.

These moves can help make people living close to projects feel part of the process and develop a sense of involvement and ownership, developers said at the recent WindEnergy Hamburg digital event.

Addressing offshore objections

The long development timelines for offshore wind farms can make it difficult for communities to feel involved, said Frédéric Lanoë, CEO of French developer Valorem.

He recalled his experience designing French offshore projects for German developer Wpd. Lanoë set up forums to hear from environmentalists, fishermen, politicians and anybody with a stake in a project’s development.

There must be a serious expectation that a project may have to change if developers agree to options with communities, he added. Wpd moved the project to enable better views from a nearby cliff.

“By doing so, the community was really involved, and it became easier for the offshore project because the community understood it,” Lanoë explained.“We’ve been trying to do this onshore and it is not so easy.”

Lanoë now oversees more than 100 onshore projects for Valorem. He admitted that with so many options in terms of layout, and with more competition, it is difficult to monitor every site.

Catrin Jones, communication lead for Vattenfall’s 1800MW Norfolk Vanguard Norfolk Vanguard (1800MW) Offshoreoff Norfolk, UK, Europe Click to see full details and 1800MW Norfolk Boreas Norfolk Boreas (1800MW) OffshoreOff Norfolk, North Sea, UK, Europe Click to see full details projects, warned that the huge scale of offshore projects can create a barrier to community engagement as it can be more difficult to cultivate an “intimate relationship” with local communities. While construction work is mostly temporary, developing a steady pipeline of projects can make jobs a longer-term incentive for local communities, Jones suggested.

Densely populated Europe

Toni Volpe, CEO of Italian developer Falck Renewables, was keen to stress that the task of community engagement in Europe was determined largely by its geography.

“Of course it is different market by market, but in Europe we don’t see the size of projects going up at all,” he said. Ten years after it was commissioned, Falck’s 138MW Buddusò-Alà dei Sardi project is still the largest wind farm in Italy.

“It’s becoming even more of a local- and municipal-level effort onshore. And sometimes the challenge for onshore is not really the size of the project but the number of towns involved.”

This could make a 6MW project close to two urban centres in Europe as challenging as a 200MW site.
“The beauty and the main feature of Europe is that it is, generally speaking, a densely populated geography,” Volpe said.

“This is one of the reasons why it is not so easy to scale up installed capacity. It’s why I am even more convinced that working efficiently at community level is crucial for growth in Europe.”

While there are some large onshore sites in Scandinavia that already allow for economies of scale, discussion with communities “remains crucial”, he added.

“It becomes sustainable when we are able to adapt the strategy. When all the stakeholders who finance the industry, who do the jobs, who work with the communities, really understand,” he said.

“If we communicate, if we don’t hide, and set the right relationship on day one — it’s the right way to start and the way to finish.”

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