Utah State University Renewable Energy Case Study Finds It “Takes a Village” to Develop a Wind Project

Earlier this year, we interviewed Professors Cathy Hartman and Edwin R. Stafford of the Center for the Market Diffusion of Renewable Energy and Clean Technology at Utah State University on the subject of green marketing.  In that interview, Hartman and Stafford offered a number of useful suggestions, which largely boiled down to knowing your customers, speaking to them in ways that are relevant to their lives, employing messengers who have credibility with the target audience, and of course “applying good marketing principles to make green products desirable for consumers.

Now, Hartman and Stafford are out with their latest article, this time focused on “how private businesses and entrepreneurs might step up and dare to navigate the renewable energy development process, especially in communities that haven’t hosted renewable energy projects before. What Hartman and Stafford’s article describes is a case study of how an “idealistic entrepreneur, Tracy Livingston, and his engineering colleague, Christine Mikell, took on Utah’s utility industry to build the state’s first commercial wind power plant.” The effort led to “a small 18.9 megawatt project of nine turbines at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon in 2008, sufficient to power over 6,000 homes in the community annually.” How did they do it? A few lessons:

  • The challenge was “not only convince skeptical utilities, policymakers, and citizens about the viability of wind energy as a cleaner, more sustainable alternative to Utah’s traditional fossil fuels (coal, natural gas), but also demonstrate how the wind farm would create worthwhile local benefits, including local job creation, lease payments to local landowners, and property tax revenues for community services, such as the funding of schools, libraries, and fire protection.”
  • A key concept that emerged was “sustainable entrepreneurship” – the “exploitation of business opportunities to create goods and services that sustain the natural and/or communal environment and provide economic and social gains for others.
  • “Livingston and Mikell found that it literally “takes a village” to develop a wind project and playing collaborative entrepreneurs, they initiated coalitions and forged networks with other groups and supporters to tap the necessary expertise, resources, and assistance to overcome myriad political, siting, market, and social barriers facing their novel wind project.”
  • …”entrepreneurs and local city officials need to maintain open communications with communities throughout the wind development process; and two, they also need to be cognizant of how a proposed wind project’s local benefits are understood and disseminated throughout the  host community.”
  • Bottom line: “Much of the success behind the Spanish Fork Wind Project was the result of the collaborative relationships Livingston and Mikell forged along the way.”

It’s fascinating research, and it reminds us of what Judith Schwartz told us recently regarding the smart grid, namely the importance of having “a two-way exchange so that you as the person offering the service is listening to your customer and understanding what they’re going to care about – and it’s not the same for every person…” Starting to sense a pattern here?