The proliferation of social media sites has facilitated this activism, with Facebook groups now a common accompaniment to other campaign tactics.

Most recently, EDF was accused of ‘jumping the gun’ by applying for planning permission for preparatory work on the new Hinkley Point reactor before the main plans have been approved. The response from utilities has been to routinely introduce public consultation on their strategic plans and declare commitment that any decision will depend on a full planning consent process involving further consultation in due course.

National Grid is currently going through this process with its Nailsea pylons, while ScottishPower Renewables has failed to win round the local population to its Lenches windfarm proposals over the past two years, culminating in the local District Council rejecting the company’s construction plans.

What is most interesting about the consultation process is the role that reputation plays, both in terms of the credibility paid to the company’s pledges to act upon the findings of the consultation, as well as the relative boost, or otherwise, that a consultation can have on a company’s overall reputation. National Grid’s decision to consult the public over the Nailsea pylons has corresponded with an increase in its reputation score for public relations of +0.17 (Alva Reputation Driver: Stakeholder Engagement).

However, ScottishPower Renewables saw a significant decrease in its reputation score for the same driver, dropping -1.09, as its consultation efforts were seen as hollow, perfunctory and too late. The reputation capital gained by National Grid’s decision to listen to the public and launch the consultation will stand it in good stead and ensure an increase in goodwill towards the organisation as well as an increase in the public’s belief in the results of the consultation.

ScottishPower Renewables will have no such boost and has lost the opportunity to increase its reputation with the local community, while also having to absorb substantial costs due to the delays to its planning consent. With a precedent set, other communities facing planning applications by ScottishPower Renewables will also have a template to follow.

Consultation is a valuable process for stakeholders to be heard and a strong opportunity for companies to demonstrate their intention to involve the local community in investment decisions therefore promoting an image of a caring and honest company and reducing the risk of costly delays to planning applications by local activism. This is a great example of the benefits of managing your reputation with specific stakeholder groups.


—– By Nicholas Chrysanthou, Energy Consultant Analyst at Alva