The Core Energy Conference in Halifax is always content rich and delightfully entertaining for energy enthusiasts such as myself.
What struck me this year, is that despite declining world oil prices, the Maritimes remain a hub of energy activity. Our region is perfectly positioned to take advantage of our many natural resources.
With an offshore rich with oil and gas potential, awesome tidal power possibilities with the Bay of Fundy, and electric utilities that are innovating and transforming our electricity mix to more renewable energy, the future is bright.
A common thread throughout the conference: increased public scrutiny and the challenge of engaging the public in complex energy projects.
So, how are the energy leaders in our region tackling this challenge?
1—Energy is a long game, engage early and often
Most energy projects are long term in nature, but it’s never too early to start to engage people in meaningful conversation about your project.
A great example is the Mactaquac Generating Station. By 2030, it is expected to reach the end of its useful life. Although this is years away, NB Power is proactively engaging citizens to ask what’s important to them so they can make the best decisions for the province.
2—Government policy can make or break your project – get involved
Governments have a major stake in setting the policy direction for energy opportunities. Make sure your voice is heard by communicating your project plans, benefits and opportunities with government officials and leaders, and energy critics.
A recent example is the legislated moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia. Environmentalists were mobilized, organized and effectively communicated their concerns to government decision makers. Industry was late to the debate and missed an opportunity to influence and shape public policy.
If there’s something afoot – get involved early and have your say!
3—Building public confidence through open, transparent communications
For the first time at Core, the Chair of the Utility and Review Board spoke with conference participants. He emphasized the importance of instilling public confidence in the regulatory process. This principle also applies to energy projects. The public wants to know that energy projects are being regulated in a way that protects the environment.
The Board has undertaken many steps to make hearings more accessible, open and transparent like live streaming hearings, and posting hearing transcripts and evidence online.
Sharing information in an open and transparent way goes a long way to build trust.
4—Engaging First Nations creates opportunity
Several conference speakers encouraged energy companies to work with First Nations communities to seek collaborative opportunities beyond the formal duty to consult.
Meaningful conversations with communities and First Nations helps establish important relationships to explore mutually beneficial opportunities. Early conversations about how to work together to help build viable business in the region builds our regional energy capacity. This benefits us all.
It’s clear – communication is key to successful energy projects. Engage people early and often. Become your own energy advocate and change the energy narrative, one conversation at a time.