Building Community Support for Energy Infrastructure

A Colorado investor-owned electric utility needed to build a 39-mile secondary supporting transmission line across its service territory to provide greater reliability and added capacity to power day-to-day life and empower economic development and prosperity in the region.

Client
Services
Communications Strategy & Planning
Stakeholder Engagement & Advocacy Communications
Industry
Energy & Utilities
Awards

CHallenge

To build the transmission line, the utility needed to secure easements from dozens of landowners for permission to cross their properties, and also needed a 1041 permit (referring to Colorado local land use regulations) from commissioners in one impacted county. Resident concerns about view impacts and the health risks of living near a transmission line turned into an active community opposition campaign, leading the county commissioners to deny a 1041 permit on the first application. The commissioners encouraged the utility to increase community education and engagement efforts before resubmitting.

Solution

Linhart PR developed and executed a comprehensive, multi-channel communications and community engagement program intended to build public understanding of and support for the project and to demonstrate to county commissioners that significant efforts were made to engage with residents most likely to be impacted:

  • Communications Toolkit: Linhart PR rebranded the project to more clearly convey the region-wide benefits and to signal a fresh start for community engagement. Then, Linhart PR developed a toolkit of internal and external communications resources, including key messages, FAQs, updated web copy, presentation decks and infographics, to better explain the project components and purpose, and the rationale for the proposed transmission line route.
  • Community Meetings and Touchpoints: To further understand residents’ concerns and gather their feedback, Linhart PR coordinated “coffee talks” in Southern Colorado communities where the proposed route would run. Utility team members served coffee at local coffee shops and listened to feedback. Linhart PR also planned four community meetings, inviting residents near the proposed route to attend via postcard invites, targeted social media posts and ads in local newspapers. The utility hosted three science-fair style open houses and one telephone town hall provided to allow residents to chat with transmission planning experts, ask questions and review project information.
  • Response Support: Engagement with residents continued outside the community touchpoints, and Linhart PR developed letters, emails and talking points to support the utility’s responses to difficult feedback or questions. This also included developing two opinion pieces for the local newspaper, to address commonly asked questions or misunderstood information.

Results

By following the comprehensive communications and community engagement program, the utility, in partnership with Linhart PR:

  • Incorporated landowner feedback and made significant changes to the proposed route, demonstrating to county commissioners the utility’s commitment to working with communities along the path
  • Reached thousands of Colorado customers and increased understanding for the project with fact-based, educational details, including the need and benefits, via resources like the project presentation deck, website, educational handouts and local media opinion pieces

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