November 7, 2018 | by Bruce Levy

Electricity resilience has become the keystone for government planning, especially in the Caribbean. The region is forging new resilience programs to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts. These programs will determine the type and location of the future electricity supply for many Caribbean Islands. Moving from vision to action means building consensus on where, how and when to implement new clean energy projects to meet those targets. Easier said than done! This feat is particularly challenging for governments and utilities that are balancing many priorities. Meeting these goals will, in most cases, require change – change in what types of generating plants are constructed, where they are constructed and who will build, finance, and operate these facilities when built.

How to fund the cost of these mitigation and adaptation programs creates additional layers of complexity. Best practices can make the decision process more effective and translate policy into real projects with real impact. Government agencies will need to carefully seek, vet and prioritize proposals from credible private developers that can deliver on proposed plans. On the other side, energy developers and project managers should establish clear, open dialogue and work within the community to get municipal buy-in.

For government leaders: Developing criteria

Making sure resilience policies actually lead to tangible results like increased renewable energy generation means choosing the right projects – those with private sector partners that are fully equipped to execute. Abiding by a set of criteria that partners must meet will help increase project success and turn national goals into reality.

While a key goal in moving toward a resilient, renewable energy supply is to reduce the cost of energy, resilience – and the strengthened robust installations needed to withstand the conditions of the future – often cost more than the lowest cost option. We all learned in the 2017 hurricanes that some renewable plant designs are more resilient than others. Decision makers need to carefully consider the depth of informed experience when it comes to private sector partners.

Questions that governments should ask potential partners during the proposal process:

● Have you developed an energy project of this type before?

● Did you fully assess the proposed site for technical feasibility?

● Do you have access to the funding you need to build this project?

● Where and how will you purchase the necessary equipment?

● Have you spoken to the surrounding community about the proposed project?

● What is your plan for the necessary permitting process?

Essentially, you need to know that the developer has done it before, knows how to do it in this proposed setting and has or can get the funding needed to make it happen.

For developers: Informing a group of undecideds

Private sector project developers can make the approval process easier through preparation, research and appropriate follow-up – most importantly they should understand the rules of the country or jurisdiction where the plan to work. By clearly outlining proposed energy projects, developers can help government staff understand and evaluate the environmental and financial impacts of new projects. Transparently compare your proposal to other options competing to address the same need. Putting your idea into the local context is key since agencies are persistently peppered with new ideas while managing a huge range of initiatives.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork for a project through clear presentation, harness that momentum by continuing an open and informative dialogue. Although governments aren’t typically criticized for not making a decision, project developers can ease potential inertia against committing to a major investment by researching local concerns and by using data and successful track record evidence from similar projects. Providing case studies on your successful projects, offering interviews with customer references or subject experts and taking decision makers on site visits can help garner support.

Transparency and trust are particularly important in developing countries where past promises for energy projects may not have been kept and skepticism of renewable energy’s dependability may be high. Setting and delivering on milestones at each step along the project path helps build that confidence. As projects move from proposal into implementation, developers can create an environment of trust by accepting comments throughout the process. This will also mitigate criticism and resistance during and after project construction.

For the good of all: Elevating communities

Although government agencies are the most visible force in turning policy into action, local communities can serve as powerful influencers around project development. Most proposals won’t move forward unless each involved party (government, communities) knows that planned actions have the other’s approval. It’s often a chicken-and-egg situation when it comes to project progress: the local community won’t embrace a project until it has minister buy-in, and the minister won’t green light a project unless the community endorses it.

My company’s planning for our 36-megawatt wind farm in Jamaica involved extensive dialogue with local government agencies and community groups on the siting of the project. But the inclusion didn’t stop at that phase. We continually evaluated and amended plans for the placement of turbines, roads and transmission lines to minimize land use and impacts on local residents based on sustained community conversations.

Developers can facilitate project approval and set themselves up for smoother operations by offering local benefits like jobs, schools and other infrastructure. Developers should use local labor, contractors and suppliers at every project stage. Before starting construction of the BMR Jamaica Wind project, we recruited employees by holding job fairs that allowed us to hire 22 domestic contractors. Members of surrounding parishes contributed about 90 percent of labor hours for the wind farm construction. Recruiting locally builds trust, brings money into the community and provides workers with hands-on professional experience in renewable energy development.

Leaving lasting impact beyond the project is an important tool for long-term success. During construction of our Jamaica wind farm, we invested in local facilities and infrastructure. We paved dirt roads in an adjacent community and added glass windows to a local elementary school. We also donated a police vehicle to the local constabulary and have been gradually upgrading a local living facility for the developmentally disabled. These gestures help us become part of and liked by the community, which set a positive tone for future deployments.

Resilience is a complex but necessary shift for the Caribbean. Appropriate vetting and due diligence is the crucial first step to choosing projects that will turn resilience goals into real-world action. During implementation, engaging creatively and persistently with municipal leaders and the surrounding community increases the unique value of each project, which is critical to the adoption of clean energy in more places. To challenge the status quo, we need to emphasize the principles of learning about your neighbors and considering their concerns, maintaining an open dialogue with all stakeholders and committing to ongoing community support.


Originally published on: LinkedIn