Developing Strategies to Engage the Public on Renewables

By Peter Kelly-Detwiler - TREIA Storyteller in Residence

By Peter Kelly-Detwiler - TREIA Storyteller in Residence

One key to developing a strong board is to cultivate members with a wide variety of backgrounds. That type of diversity is well exemplified in TREIA board member Jeff Risley, Chief Strategy Officer at marketing firm Saxum.  

Risley – who joined the board in January – brings a broad variety of experience and talents to the game. In his 25-year career, Risley has dedicated time to managing associations in Washington, D.C., working for an advertising agency in Kansas City, and overseeing marketing and communications activities in jobs at an engineering firm, a solar developer, and a Kansas wind-advocacy group. He recently joined Oklahoma City-based marketing firm Saxum. In his role there, Risley assists renewables developers in creating and implementing engagement strategies for interacting with the public.

Risley was attracted to TREIA for numerous reasons. Saxum has an office in Houston so it made natural sense to engage more deeply in the Texas renewable energy conversation. Also attractive was TREIA’s approach. “I liked TREIA’s mission as an advocacy, but not lobbying, and education organization.  And the fact that it’s got a big tent with many different players involved. To me, that’s exactly the way energy development needs to be "approached.”

Since he’s been on the board, Risley has been meeting numerous TREIA members to understand their role in the bigger picture. He’s also been applying his skills to help the board from a professional management standpoint (attendees at TREIA’s board can attest to the fact that he runs an efficient board meeting, making room for all points of view, but always staying on track). 

Risley is looking forward to GridNEXT, where he is moderating a panel highlighting why renewable energy developers need to do a better job interacting and communicating with the public.  He observes that the renewables market has recently become politicized, and that, “it’s not a ‘gimme’ anymore for developers to get projects green-lighted by communities. Renewable developers are facing many of the same opposition dynamics as traditional energy developers. For much of the public, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s oil, gas, or a big wind turbine,” he observes. “Communities see energy, period…and sometimes they react negatively to having it in their backyard.  Wind is being lumped into the category of big energy.”

Risley notes that this dynamic is not confined to Texas, but rather a growing national trend. “We are working on this issue in Oklahoma, Kansas and elsewhere. There are always some communities that welcome development, but over the last five years energy developers have faced more organized, mobilized, and digitized opposition.”  

Risley is developing a GridNEXT panel to address this topic, to help developers and participants better understand the need for a more sophisticated approach to stakeholder engagement.  In short, he says, they need to approach this challenge “with the same level of discipline that they might bring to getting their engineering or regulatory permits.”

Currently committed to speaking on the panel with Risley are Melissa Miller, Board President and Regional Manager at Avangrid and Susan Sloan, Vice President of State Policy at the American Wind Energy Association.  Risley is currently seeking a local county commissioner or other official who can talk about what they have encountered and who can offer perspective as to what it’s like sitting on that side of the table.

You will be able to hear this, and much more at GridNEXT!