Community energy projects, by definition, involve a lot of work with the community and a fundamental part of any project will be constant consultation and support building. Once you have built a groundswell of support, it's important to survey the community for their attitudes towards your project. If community engagement is going well, this will be reflected in survey answers that show enthusiasm and support.
This article is based on the survey undertaken by Hepburn Wind at an early stage in their community energy project.
Main topics covered in this article include:
Composing a survey
Before you launch into your survey, it's a good idea to describe your concept and clearly state the reasons for pursuing the project. It's also important to state the reason for conducting the survey, and let people know how long it will take them to complete the survey.
A good survey will consist of both questions with pre-defined answer options and open questions. Questions with pre-defined answer options are much easier to analyse when it comes time to collate your results. They are also quicker to fill in for respondents. An example of this type of question would be "Do you support a renewable energy project in your town?" with yes or no as answer options.
An open question is one where a respondent can share their ideas and thoughts freely. These answers are valuable for getting feedback on ideas you may not have thought about when constructing the survey. However, answers to such questions are more difficult to collate and analyse. An example of an open question is "What is your opinion of building a renewable energy project in your town?".
Conducting a survey
Internet surveys can be built quickly and easily using online tools. Surveys of this type generally generate a link which can be emailed to community members and they allow for efficient collection and analysis of results.
Of course, many members of your community may not have access to the internet and it's a good idea to supplement any online survey with a paper version, featuring the same questions. Paper surveys can be handed out and collected at community events or street stalls, as part of your other community engagement activities.
Example survey questions
Some useful questions that you might want to adapt:
- Do you support our project concept for your area?
- What energy sources do you favour for your area?
- What do you consider the advantages and the disadvantages of our concept energy source?
- Do you support a local energy generation facility?
- Do you support community-ownership of an energy generation facility?
- What types of investors would you consider acceptable for a community-owned energy generation facility? (eg individuals, businesses, non-locals etc)
- Which of the following community benefits do you think are the most important?
- Community influence on decision making
- Financial benefits to shareholders
- Financial benefits for a community fund
- Local economic opportunities like jobs, training, business
- Appropriate size of project
- Which of the following possible concept sites would you support for the location of this project?
- Would you be interested in purchasing energy from this renewable energy generation facility?
- Would you be interested in investing in this renewable energy generation facility?
- How much money would you consider investing?
- If you would invest, what are your primary motivations for investment?
- Financial Return
- Benefit to Region/Community
- Cover own electricity use
- Energy Security
- Climate Change
- Clean & Renewable Energy
- Public Health/Safety
- Create Jobs/Business
- Community Taking Leadership
In addition, you might find it handy to request a couple of personal details like where the respondent lives and if they would like to be on a mailing list for more information.
Hepburn Wind's survey
The questions below were used by Hepburn Wind during their community engagement. All of them had pre-defined answer options for ease of analysis.
- I support the concept of a small-scale wind energy development of one or two turbines that could provide electricity to the townships of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs.
- I would like community consultation on a small scale wind energy project to continue in order to develop a set of community criteria to guide the project.
- I would like to be involved, in some way, in supporting this concept to ensure the community realises the future benefits it can provide.
- I am concerned about the problems associated with a small-scale wind energy development.
- I wish to be kept informed about ongoing developments regarding this wind energy project.
The answer options for the above questions were:
- Strongly agree
- Tend to agree
- Tend to disagree
- Strongly disagree
Building community support
Engaging project neighbours
Influencing and working with local government
Running a successful street stall
Running effective public meetings
Dealing with opposition to your project