Sustainable PR rallies support to win approval from the town of Schodack’s zoning board.
Cipriani Energy Group, a division of the Sol Real Group, is a solar energy company that has developed hundreds of megawatts (MW) of solar power through their utility-scale renewable energy projects. With over 12 years of experience, Sol Real Group is well established in Europe and has helped to pioneer the solar energy market in Central and South America. Cipriani brings international community solar expertise to the development, construction, operation, and maintenance of renewable energy power generation.
In 2020, Cipriani Energy Group engaged Sustainable PR to strengthen their community relations and grow local, grassroots support for various solar farm installations in communities across upstate New York. Sustainable PR has since represented nearly a dozen of the company’s community solar projects, identifying, and mobilizing residents at municipal meetings to assist in gaining approvals throughout the permitting process.
In January 2023, Sustainable PR was tasked to drum up support for a challenging project. The Cipriani team had engaged a landowner in Schodack, NY, a bedroom community of Albany. The project site was perfectly situated to interconnect with the power grid but was facing significant criticism from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for its proximity to the town’s main road.
The ZBA had recently passed a zoning law restricting development within a 200’ setback. Because of a stream and a section of wetlands on the site which prohibited a sizeable portion of the property from being developed, the developer sought a 100’ setback from the road for the project to be economically viable. The Cipriani team requested a variance to accommodate the 100’ setback but faced significant opposition to their request, especially from the board chairperson, who had spearheaded the effort to establish the 200’ setback. Sustainable PR’s charge was to assist the Cipriani team in convincing the ZBA members that the project’s proximity to the road would not be an issue for residents.
Utilizing grassroots public affairs, Sustainable PR used a combination of in-person and digital outreach, to identify a group of residents who had a history of environmental advocacy. Once identified, Sustainable PR team members engaged with the local advocates and briefed them on the project.
The advocates identified in Schodack were highly educated and respected members of the community, who had working knowledge of PV power and community solar. Sustainable PR forged strong relationships with these supporters, to gain their respect and confidence.
Those who believed the solar project to be an asset to the Schodack community were invited to be added to a communications outreach list so that they could receive updates on the project.
Once the project was on the ZBA’s agenda, Sustainable PR distributed an email to the supporters, inviting them to express their support of the project at the next ZBA meeting. If a supporter indicated that they were unavailable to attend the meeting in person, they were given the option to mail a letter of support to the town clerk – Sustainable PR drafted a template letter for supporters to personalize and submit, to make the task as easy as possible.
Sustainable PR successfully mobilized supporters to attend the ZBA meeting and speak on behalf of the project. Each supporter who attended the meetings delivered powerful messages to the board, speaking of their community’s future and their desire to play a role in the state’s transition to clean energy. The process was repeated on three separate occasions, with the client’s prospects improving at each meeting.
The Sustainable PR team maintained regular communication with supporters between meetings, sending frequent project updates and imploring the group to continue to show their support for the project.
As a result of Sustainable PR’s efforts, the project was saved. Supporters turned the tide of the project from impending doom to a compromise and potential permitting.
Supporters’ consistent presence had an impact on the town’s ZBA. Over the course of the three meetings, they were able to sway the board chair to make a compromise with the Cipriani team to allow a 150’ setback.
Without the voices of local community members echoing their support and their desire for Cipriani’s community solar project and renewable energy, the project would have been turned down at that first ZBA meeting. However, with members of the community consistently expressing their desire for the development, the board was encouraged to work with the Cipriani team to come to an agreement.
The results of this community relations campaign showcase the power and value of communal voices.