A Free-Market Energy Blog

Scientists versus Lobbyists: A Winning Strategy Against Big Wind

By -- June 14, 2010

My hope as a physicist is that our representatives make energy and environmental policy decisions based on sound science. So far that has not been the case. The main reason for this is that we are engaged in an epic battle between scientists and lobbyists for those with financial or political agendas.

Right now the scientists–the group with the better case for sound public policy–are losing.

I used to think that trying hard and being right was enough. Foolish me! Everything today is really about public relations. The Internet has spawned the perfect storm. Within a few minutes we can now send messages that are read by millions of people. At the other end, recipients are in overload, due to a steady bombardment of these messages. It is very hard for almost everyone to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Tilting Against Big Wind

What this says is that properly phrasing the message and getting it to the right people is critical. Scientists are not good at this, while this is a lobbyists forte — which is a big reason why scientists are losing.

What’s going on with industrial wind energy is a good example. Right now there are at least a hundred local groups fighting this encroachment. By and large these are an informal collection of local citizen volunteers who have a commendable interest in protecting their community from snake oil salesmen. Some of these groups have been successful, others not. What makes the difference?

I have put on my free energy presentation to several of these groups in the Northeast U.S., and have corresponded with nearly a hundred others, worldwide. These groups are amazingly diverse when it comes to the members, organizational structure, website, funding, message, activity, etc. Which ingredient is the key for success?

Let’s look at two groups that are only a few miles away from each other, but far apart in other ways.

Save Our Sound and Save Our Sea Shore: Two Strategies

One of the first groups to form (way back in 2001) was Save Our Sound (SOS). Their main focus was to fight the proposed Cape Wind project, scheduled for Nantucket Sound, near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. SOS was immediately blessed with some well-connected supporters. I was told that one generous benefactor contributed some twenty million dollars (!) to this effort.

This enabled SOS to have a full time executive director, paid staff, board of directors, office space, a polished website, significant money for advertising, etc. I had high hopes that SOS would be the standard bearer for the cause, and be a template that other groups could replicate.

Years later there was another proposed wind project, this time down the road in Cape Cod: Wellfleet. A group of citizens also organized there to fight this threat, and decided to call themselves Save Our Sea Shore (SOSS).

They had zero funding, so all expenses were paid out-of-pocket. They had no executive director, or hired staff, or board of directors, or office space, or money for advertising, etc. They had a much more basic website. Their efforts were coordinated by a few dedicated volunteer activists.

So which group was successful, and why? Well that’s what this post is about.

The answer to the first question is that by nearly any standard, SOSS has been significantly more successful than has SOS. Yes the people with the late start, miniscule money, no professional staff, no board of directors, and no office did a significantly better job than their well-funded neighbor.

How can this be?

In my view, the key decision that any group has to make is: what is their strategy going to be?

To identify the optimum strategy, the group must have a clear idea as to not only who their opponents are, but also their opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. A careful assessment of this situation will reveal the reality that any citizen group is starting off as the clear underdog.

Briefly the opponents are:

1 – The Wind Industry [Lobbyists (e.g. AWEA), marketers (e.g. Iberdrola), manufactures (e.g. Vesta), installers (e.g. Horizon), investors (e.g. Goldman Sachs), utilities (e.g. National Grid)].

2 – Most environmental organizations (e.g. Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists).

3 – Many Academics (e.g. at Pace, Stanford).

4 – Many of their representatives [Federal (e.g. Congress, DOE, FERC), State (e.g. legislators, NYSERDA, PSC, DEC), Local (e.g. county, town board, planning board)]

5 – Some of their neighbors (e.g. lessor landowners, well-intentioned environmentalists)

Their adversaries’ strengths are:

1 – Many more people

2 – A lot more money

3 – Better marketing skills

4 – More political power

5 – A cause that has intuitive appeal (“free, clean and green energy”)

Pretty daunting, right?

Well, what chance did George Washington’s ragtag group of untrained volunteers have against the largest, best funded, most professional army and navy in the world?  The only chance that such an outnumbered, out-gunned group has for winning is to take the high ground and hit the enemy where he is weak.   Big Wind has two  main weaknesses and they are fatal:

1 – Big Wind is a coalition of special interests and does not hold the moral high ground.

2 – Wind power does not work (i.e., it does not: produce reliable energy, produce energy economically, reduce dependence on oil, replace conventional power plants, significantly reduce CO2 emissions, create jobs)

SOSS attacked these weaknesses and succeeded where SOS has (so far) failed. Does the situation at SOS mean that they have bad people? No, simply that they chose an inferior strategy. Does that mean SOS accomplished nothing? No they have had some successes. However with the money and organization and head start they had, they could have accomplished significantly more if their efforts were more appropriately directed. Is the SOS situation salvageable? Possibly. To begin with they have to acknowledge that they are on the wrong path, and then they need to follow the strategy example set by their poor cousin.

Advice from a 25-year Veteran

In my 25+ years of fighting for various causes I have found that:

1) If enough citizens speak up constructively, almost all self-serving representatives will back down.

2) Citizens will take action to remove non-compliant representatives — as they are no longer “representatives.”

3) Active media support and the support of other organizations can be very helpful.

To get this citizen participation:

1) Citizens need to be thoroughly educated

2) Citizens need to have their energy narrowly focused, and

3) The focus should be on a positive goal (e.g., not against wind energy).

Is this easy to do? It depends on the group’s leaders’ ability to organize and to pay attention to detail.

I compare it to baking a cake from scratch. To have it come out right they need to follow the directions carefully. Periodically I hear from groups that are not doing too well, though they tell me that they are doing everything I’m advocating.

When I look into their situation it turns out that they indeed have all the ingredients, but they did something like put in way too little of something, or added things in the wrong sequence. We have a formidable adversary, so doing things just right is essential to maximize the likelihood of prevailing.

Tomorrow: Advice from the Field

In tomorrow’s edition I’ll post an unsolicited letter I received from one of the unpaid citizens leading the SOSS group. It explains what he learned was the best approach to take in their so far successful efforts. If you believe in the merit of profiting from the experiences of others, you’ll find it interesting.

In the meantime you might want to read the article I wrote quite some time ago, summarizing what I believe is the proper strategy to take.

I also strongly recommend seeing an apropos movie, Amazing Grace.

19 Comments


  1. Charles  

    Being in the middle of a battle with about 3 windfarm proposals at present, I am looking forward to your next article.

    Incidentally, your approach as outlined in your article is generally speaking the one I am taking, so that is interesting.

    Reply

  2. John Droz  

    Charles (and others):

    I have a free periodic energy newsletter that you should find of interest.

    Please send me an email at “[email protected]” with the town where you are located (as that is how my mailing list is organized), and I will add you.

    Also glad to try to answer any questions.

    Reply

  3. Steve C.  

    While hope is not a plan, spirit and commitment are the foundation of any successful strategic approach. As Napoleon said, “the moral is to the physical as three is to one”. I’m not surprised that the more professionally funded and staffed citizen group did not succeed. Devoted group members have skin in the game and know, going into the battle, they have to be more focused and agile.
    More importantly, facts are stubborn things. Sadly, much of what passes for public policy argument in today’s society is “faith based”, ie non-falsifiable. We do not have the luxury of running independent experiments in alternate realities. But at least when it comes to something like wind energy production there is a definable result. Either power will be produced at a low cost with little impact or it will not. It may take some years of wasted investment but having a defined benchmark provides an opportunity to be able to say it succeeded or failed.

    Reply

  4. Jon Boone  

    Well said, Steve C. However, in this era of the sound bite, reality can be ignored for quite some time, as long as enough people are making money on delusions. Witness the ethanol scam, where one can’t even be president without having to endorse it. Even the New York Times headlined the fact that it was causing more trouble than it was worth. But with the wind mess, no meaningful produce or service is produced while the fantasy of wind is little more than a nightmare wherever the physical plant is located. So there is hope for an effective opposition, as John Droz suggests here.

    Reply

  5. WillR  

    There is a paper at Wind Concerns Ontario which reflects exactly those views.

    http://windconcernsontario.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/watts-up-with-the-wind-in-ontario-2010/

    I believe that your strategy is the correct approach. I look forward to your next article.

    Reply

  6. Rob  

    John, you might want to give out copies of this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Wind-Farm-Scam-Independent-Minds/dp/1905299834/

    It’s more focused on the UK than the US, but a l0t of the issues are the same.

    Reply

  7. Lisa Linowes  

    John, I wish your encapsulation of what works and what doesn’t were as simple as baking a cake. I’ve worked extensively with organized efforts involved in the wind debate and while every situation has similarities, all are very different. I don’t think it is appropriate to compare SOS and SOSS in trying to make your point.

    Not to marginalize SOSS, their fight involved the easiest of venues — a town board seeking to erect a single local wind turbine at the expense of the local taxpayers. It was not hard to see how that story would end provided those who were concerned stepped up in a timely manner. We’ve seen similar proposals and the same outcome in a number of cases in MA and elsewhere.

    The folks at SOS are not fighting a single wind turbine or the locally elected town board; they’re opposing a national imperative. They’re facing a wealthy developer who has the federal government, the MA state government, every ‘clean energy’ NGO, and nearly every environmental group and newspaper editorial staff on his side. By share size, the project itself is attractive in that it will satisfy much of the RPS for the region and it’s believed (wrongly) that the energy will save MA ratepayers millions of dollars yearly. And FWS and MMS have declared the project will not pose an unreasonable adverse effect on the natural environment. Maybe SOS made mistakes along the way. Everyone does. But the fact is Cape Wind is not built yet and the SOS folks are still in the game. There’s a good chance the Cape Wind/Grid PPA will not get approved and the federal courts will not look kindly upon the impacts of this project on endangered species.

    I am fairly certain that had SOS been a scrappy, ragtag group of untrained volunteers it would have burned out long ago and been forgotten by now.

    Reply

  8. Anne Johnston  

    I a one of a group fighting 3 projects on the Oak Ridges Moraine in Ontario, an environmentally sensitive area stretching 160 kms from east to west. We are prohibited from building more the 10′ x 10′ on our properties, yet are expected to welcome 4-500′ IWTs . I have nearly 4000 emails now in just under a year, and I feel the need to have. a consolidated document, and to be aware of a successful strategy. So keep going John Droz

    Reply

  9. CNY Roger  

    I agree with your position about wind but the bureaucrats are still in full froth. The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, released in May “confirms” what many have been saying for years: “There are no significant impediments to integrating wind and solar renewable energy into the power grid.”

    The report is available at: http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/wwsis.html

    Of course the devil is in the details and details are not needed when justifying their existence.

    I believe that on the path we are headed there will be a catastrophic blackout when a Bermuda high heat wave envelopes the eastern US, the demand for power peaks but cannot be met because the wind resource goes to near zero and the fossil generation plants closed by de-regulated operators are no longer available to meet that demand because wind subsidies made their units uneconomic to keep in operation

    Reply

  10. John Droz  

    CNY Roger:

    NREL is a political, not scientific source of information.

    There is no impediment to implementing horsepower onto the grid either – assuming that money is no object, reliability is not a priority, user demand can be controlled (a.k.a. smart grid), etc.

    The reality is that any objective cost/benefits analysis of wind energy will conclude that it is a boondoggle. Citizens need to represent themselves and to stand up and speak out about this.

    Otherwise we will continue down the path chosen by lobbyists.

    Reply

  11. Kent Hawkins  

    John Droz Jr. is a leading figure and thinker in the fight against the monumental folly of support for utility-scale wind power by government, the media, many prominent environmentalists, and the unfortunate impact of their message on the trusting public. I was influenced early in my research by the strategy that John said was vital – the claims by proponents of its benefits are invalid and must be exposed. It does not work! All the many other negative impacts on our local environments and economies, wildlife, the restorative quality of our natural rural areas, on our health and the divisiveness aroused within communities (and even families) to mention some examples, are needless.

    If we persist in “believing in wind”, future generations will have to carry the heavy burden of correcting our mistakes, without the same luxury of time that we have, and neither of us have precious little of that. They will not thank us. They will hold the view that we failed them, and we will not be fondly remembered for that, to say the least.

    Reply

  12. Allegheny Front Alliance`  

    Thanks John and the many others that are taking on the challenge of Big Industrial Wind.

    Remember BIG Industrial Wind will not exist without the support of Federal grants, and state tax give aways.

    Even if you could mitigate the loss of cultural, historical and ecological landscape industrial wind is not predictable and reliable. It is a dumb idea. Big Industrial Wind destroys the area quality of life. For what gain?

    The public must stop trusting Big Industrial Wind and begin to seek truthful answers. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
    Margaret Mead

    Reply

  13. John Droz  

    Lisa:

    Of course I did not say that this fight was “as simple as baking a cake.”

    I said that all the ingredients must be in the right place, at the right time and in the right proportion. Not a simple matter indeed.

    With their $20± million of support I do not find SOS’s results at all satisfactory.

    The fact is that EVERY local group is fighting a national imperative, state support, corrupted representatives, wealthy developers, etc. etc.

    The bottom line is that doing it the right way is the ONLY hope that ANY of these groups have of being successful.

    In my view SOSS has adopted good strategies and SOS has not.

    The results support that belief.

    Reply

  14. Pru Stimson  

    By keeping their focus narrowly focused on Nantucket Sound, SOS undercut not only their own fight but everyone else’s as well. They did not challenge the imperative of wind in any way except for an occasional effort to show that it is expensive (but not that it doesn’t work to anywhere the degree claimed). They even said that wind turbines should be built in western Mass. (or maybe Waitsfield Vt., as targeted by Joe Kennedy’s wind company). Thus theirs was in fact a NIMBY fight and has been used to characterize and malign every effort against industrial wind elsewhere (like in the mountains of western Mass.).

    Not just the impacts of big wind need to be debated, but so do the claimed benefits. Because as long as those are unchallenged, they will always be claimed to justify every impact.

    Reply

  15. Jon Boone  

    I would go a bit further, Mr. Stimson. Those who think they can beat Big Wind by welcoming it to the table and then pretending it is a respectable, productive gentleman should also break out the umbrellas to celebrate “Peace in our Time.” This Chamberlain-at-Munich ploy shouldn’t be used with common wind swindlers.

    Perhaps Eric Bibler’s exhortation, made public in John’s Part II, will help put an end to such vacuous–highly unproductive–strategy. And lead people to consider indicting AWEA for fraud, which, to me, would have been a more effective way of heading off Cape Wind, since it would have exposed the lies behind the wind LLC’s claims.

    Reply

  16. Pru Stimson  

    Indeed, Mr Boone — suing the industry for fraud would have been a very effective use of the SOS millions.

    Reply

  17. John Droz  

    Pru:

    Thank you for your good comments.

    Indeed the strategy adopted by SOS guaranteed that they would be categorized as NIMBY’s.

    That, in turn, assurred that they would lose the hearts and minds of most local citizens — who are critical to have as allies. This video is an exceptional revelation of exactly the result of their inferior strategy “http://tinyurl.com/29sthfg”.

    SOS, like some other people, seem to confuse activity with accomplishment.

    Reply

  18. Donna Macrae  

    Hi folks,
    Scotland Calling! A group of us here are trying to get a national organisation underway for a unified response and a place for new groups to get resources to use. http://www.aweo.org was a great find and has led me to this page. If anyone can link up to our site that would be great. I will be putting cross-links on our site. I also need to know who to get in touch with at aweo for permission to load some of those excellent resources to our site

    Reply

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