Case study: Wind turbines communications

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Related areas of service: Media Relations; Campaigning; Government Relations

With the reputation of controversial wind turbines fitted to Hobart’s iconic Marine Board building sitting in a mangled mess on its roof, it was up to Font to help turn the project into a shining example of clean, green renewable energy in Tasmania. 

In 2009, prominent Hobart property owner Robert Rockefeller applied to install four vertical axis wind turbines on the city’s iconic harbour front Marine Board building, with studies showing up to 10 per cent of the building’s electricity usage could be generated with the new technology.

However, the early response was poor, with a number of Aldermen at the Hobart City Council arguing the turbines would obscure the view of the city’s skyline, could pose threats to wildlife and even skydivers in the area. The Council subsequently voted against the planned developments.

Not to be deterred, the building owner persisted with his idea and found support from environmentally conscious members of the community, which in early 2010 saw him convince the sceptics both in Council and the rest of community to give support to construct and install the wind turbines.

However, the peace and quiet was not to last long, with the newly installed turbines gaining front page news after suffering catastrophic failures causing them to collapse in on themselves.

Wrecked and mangled, the turbines stood above the city as an embarrassing reminder of the failed plan and for the sceptics, it was just the proof they needed to show that the turbines were an unsafe eyesore on the city’s skyline.

It was at this point that Font was called in to assist a determined property owner to realise his dream. The advice was simple. Come clean, admit your mistakes and get on with the job.

A press conference was hurriedly called and with the ensuing media throng, what was to be an 18 month process to rebuild the reputation of the wind turbines was started.

With the immediate disaster over, it was time to develop a plan. Much of the media coverage when the incident occurred had focussed on the safety issue of the turbines and while none of the damaged structures had come loose, some reports claimed pieces had fallen to the ground.

From this, it was clear that if the community was to allow the turbines to return to theHobartskyline, they must first consider them safe.

A communications plan was devised, with safety the central theme every step of the way. This saw regular media announcements and opportunities for the media to inspect works done.

Over time, the message got out that the turbines would not be re-commissioned until they were considered safe.

First up was a cooperative approach to an investigation by the State’s occupational safety authority, Workplace Standards, which once complete was publicly announced.

Then came regular media updates on the progress of the rebuild by the contractor and architect, with a series of questions and answers developed to ensure consistent messages throughout.

Letters were written to the Editor repeating the messages and eventually the noise from the critics abated.

Behind the scenes, stakeholders at an elected and bureaucratic level were also kept in the loop to ensure they understood the steps being taken to make the turbines safe.

Then came the moment of truth. With the path clear for the reinstallation of the turbines, it was on a sunnyHobartday that the new units were hoisted into the air with all the fanfare of their original installation.

While some in the media raised concerns about the safety issues associated with the new turbines, by this stage the message was clear, safety had come first.

Now with the turbines up and running again, they are widely regarded as a positive step towards a cleaner, greener future for Tasmania.

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