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Three years is a long time for a PR effort, but sometimes that’s what it takes, especially if the stakes are high. Alexander and Associates’ work for Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. paid off when the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the county modify its comprehensive plan to  allow AEHI to move forward on its plans or a nuclear power plant in that county. I’m pleased to say my term as head of PR for AEHI has produced success for this stage of the project. Dan Hamilton, a former KTRV Fox 12 newscaster, has taken the reins as head of the PR effort, and I know Dan will do a stellar job. I remain on as a consultant and fanatically committed to the project.

I first started helping AEHI in April 2007; the company’s chief goal in Idaho is to develop a nuclear power plant and CEO Don Gillispie has been highly persistent in the face of a difficult investment climate, setbacks and governmental delays. It was very heartening that the Payette P and Z last week voted 9 to 2 in favor, after a lengthy public hearing in November.

One of the two commissioners who voted against AEHI’s request said the company hadn’t submitted enough information to support its plans (several other commissioners correctly pointed out that, at this stage, AEHI had explained its plans sufficiently and it would have to submit highly detailed plans as it sought further approvals). This commissioner said the company appears to have “spent most of its money on public relations.” I take this as a backhanded compliment, but the use of public relations in this context, unfortunately, appears cynical.

In the past three years, I’ve visited close to 1,000 homes and businesses in three counties to pass out information, discuss our project and/or collect petition signatures in a half-dozen towns  – decaying downtowns, strip malls, restaurants, pawn shops, secondhand stores, used car lots, smoky bars, neighborhoods, banks, machine shops, espresso stands, barber shops, corner stores, food assistance lines, subdivisions, trailer parks and office parks. In between this community organizing work, my company sent out news releases, arranged advertising, fielded media interviews, blogged, researched/wrote newsletters, attended local government meetings, recruited people to write letters to the editor and brought AEHI into the new frontiers of social media. AEHI CEO Don Gillispie spoke in front of chambers of commerce, service clubs and anyone else who would listen, while other members of the team did their respective parts. This is honest-to-goodness commitment and community outreach, not merely “public relations.”

We won this round because we put our faith in the majority of the people.

The Snake River Alliance fought us to a near-standstill in Elmore County, but in Payette County, I believe the P and Z was more inclined to listen to the testimony. Shortly before she cast a favorable vote, one Payette P and Z commissioner said testimony was about 81 percent in favor and that was something she had to pay attention to.

The Snake River Alliance’s approach to community organizing, as I have come to see it, is to find a few key people on their side, then work largely behind-the-scenes to assemble a small but influential coalition of opposition. That approach may work well in a community where the political culture gives a disproportionate amount of weight to a small but well-connected group. In such cases, hundreds of voices in support of a proposal may not be enough to overcome those few opposed.

In Payette County last week, we saw officials genuinely consider the wishes of the majority, especially when they themselves identify with those who want a better life for themselves and their neighbors. In that kind of climate, the Snake River Alliance will have to emerge from the shadows to do the grunt work of knocking on doors, networking with local businesses, approaching common people and offering something of value that will help struggling families put food on the table.

Wherever the AEHI proposal goes, I and many other people appreciate that the Payette County Commission gave a small company a fair chance to make something tremendous happen. Thank you and we will do right for your county.

I attended a presentation last night sponsored by the United States Green Building Council, Idaho Chapter, where Snake River Alliance discussed energy policy. One of my clients is Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., which is seeking to build a nuclear plant in Elmore County, and the SRA vituperatively opposes the project.

It’s clear most decision makers and members of the public check the “all of the above” box when it comes to energy policy; nearly 7 in 10 Americans support nuclear energy, as well as all of Idaho’s congressional delegation and President Obama. The nuclear industry has a long history in Idaho and is a crucial part of the state’s economy.

The SRA is finding itself in an increasingly isolated anti-nuclear stance and to make up for that, it’s pitching itself as a renewable energy advocacy group to the public and officials that it’s lobbying. The SRA is hoping the feel-good aspects of renewables will lead to greater acceptance of their feel-bad stance on nuclear.

The SRA’s lobbyist, Liz Woodruff, left out some important points in her presentation, though. While she praised Idaho’s 2007 energy plan and advocated for its greater implementation, she avoided mentioning that the plan does, in fact, call for nuclear energy to be a part of our energy mix (add the Idaho Legislature to the list of groups that check the “all of the above” box). As someone who believes we need to pursue all low-carbon and carbon-free energy sources, I also support the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan – in its entirety.

Woodruff also avoided mention that the public and fellow environmental groups are frequently obstacles to energy production and transmission in general, and to renewables in particular. When neighbors show up to oppose a proposed wind farm, the opposition is just as tangible as when they turn out to oppose a nuclear developer. Until the SRA can bring itself to show up to these public meetings and stand up to a roomful of angry neighbors on behalf of a renewables developer, its support for renewables will remain at the 30,000-foot level, unless it is has the pleasurable task of speaking to sympathetic groups.

That brings me to my next point: People are happy to check the box that says “all of the above” when it comes to energy. When you ask them to list what they wouldn’t mind living next to, the answer winds up being “none of the above.” Public process is a crucial component of democracy and can be used to obstruct as well as accomplish. The promoters of energy sources of any kind need to keep in mind that sometimes, their strongest opponents will be the people they are trying to serve.