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Apex Clean Energy forges a path for wind farms around the US & Canada

Apex Clean Energy is leveraging a powerful network and strategic digital outreach to advocate for renewable energy—overcoming organized opposition and paving the way for a growing number of successful wind projects.

By Jane St. John

metrics

  • 67
  • nations created
  • 18
  • states & provinces
  • 7.5gw
  • of renewables by 2020

With at least fifty active projects in development across dozens of states and around 220 people in its employ, Apex Clean Energy is fiercely taking the lead in developing wind power across the United States. In some ways, there’s never been a better time for this emerging industry—prices are low, it’s easy to stay competitive, and companies like Apex are seeing more and more interest—not only from utility companies, but also from tech giants like Facebook and Google; major corporations like Ikea; and the military, all looking to invest in renewable energy. For so many, it just makes sense.

That’s part of what drew Dahvi Wilson, Apex’s Public Affairs Director, to this line of work in the first place. “My professional background is varied, but at every step, I’ve sought to do work that supports communities and our environment,” she says. “How do we make change, how do we make our society more sustainable? How do we promote a more responsible relationship with the natural world?” Those questions led her to pursue work in environmental education, policy, academia, strategic engagement, and politics before carving out a niche in wind energy. She notes, “I was interested in getting into the renewable space because I think promoting renewable energy is going to make a big difference in our nation’s sustainability. What was really interesting to me, coming from the government and nonprofit sectors, was that participating in the business of renewable energy offers an opportunity to help us do the right thing in a way that also makes clear financial sense.”

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  • Data sharing

  • Customers running their networks on NationBuilder use tag sharing to sync data between individual chapters and their network headquarters.

The attractiveness of this idea isn’t lost on Apex’s competitors, either. As the popularity of wind and other renewables has grown, so has the organized opposition from more established energy sources. Launching a new wind project in a new community requires skill at countering misinformation, activating supporters, and utilizing a variety of digital and non-digital strategies to be accessible to those with questions, in addition to traditional press outreach and marketing efforts. “It’s actually very challenging work right now and it’s teaching us to get smarter about organizing. We have to turn out our supporters and find ways to keep them engaged for years. It’s hard to manage all of these people and campaigns in so many places, and we’ve found that we need a tool capable of helping us do it,” Wilson says.

That’s where NationBuilder, Enterprise Account Manager Sorcha Rochford, and a rigorous digital strategy come into play. To drive community outreach and government support on each project, Apex’s Public Affairs team employs a six-point approach. They work hard to identify supporters, keeping track of their progress in their NationBuilder database; they activate those supporters by establishing a good ladder of engagement and identifying defined actions supporters can take; they build relationships with government officials as well as local media, actively reporting and documenting their communications; they maintain a positive presence in the community through their website, social media accounts, local philanthropy, and participation in community events and meetings; and, finally, they share compelling local messaging about their projects via regular email and texting campaigns.

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This all happens across more than fifty nations, with the help of as many as forty project developers in addition to Wilson’s mighty team of ten. In the past year, they’ve worked together to commercialize projects in Iowa, Texas, and South Dakota—in addition to delivering the largest renewable energy project serving the US Army at Fort Hood, Texas. In the case of Upland Prairie Wind in Iowa, Apex sold the project to large-scale utility company Alliant Energy, the outcome of a successful public affairs campaign to secure important permits and approvals from multiple county boards, even in the face of local opposition.

At each project, the Apex team works to integrate the lessons they have learned elsewhere to enhance their future success. One of its early-stage projects in Michigan is an excellent example of this approach.

“We started our outreach early, and we’ve been working to execute our six-point campaign strategy very comprehensively there. We’re using NationBuilder to keep track of all our communication and connection to key stakeholders and community members, and that’s been really exciting because it shows what we can do. So far it’s been a great model for us to employ on our other projects. When we build these databases early and use them to keep a record of all our relationships in a community over time, we can maintain steady momentum, work more efficiently as a team, and, ultimately, be more effective on the ground.”

-Dahvi Wilson, Public Affairs Director at Apex Clean Energy

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  • Relationship tracking

  • Organizations using NationBuilder to advocate for their community build and track relationships with dynamic, always-up-to-date profiles across their database.

Drawing the distinction between her team’s campaign strategy and more traditional PR, Wilson elaborates that “We’re really trying to focus on building personal relationships with people. Instead of it being about newspaper ads and sponsorships of local little league teams—though it does include that—it’s more about making sure that we actually have close personal relationships with landowners who are participating in the project, with stakeholders, and with decision-makers in that community. When that’s your goal, having a tool like NationBuilder is really key, because you just can’t track all those relationships and their complete histories in a spreadsheet. When you have multiple people working on a project, having one place where all of that information is kept up to date is really important. Without it, it’s easy to lose touch with the connections you’ve previously made as fast as you’re gaining new ones.”

Staying ahead of the curve will be important for Apex as the company continues to pursue an aggressive growth path in the coming year. To reach and exceed their goals, Wilson and team will follow a model they’ve created themselves. In her words:

"What we’re doing is really unique in our industry, and I think it’s really important for our industry. I believe that most of our colleagues are still thinking in much more traditional terms about what public relations should be in these communities, and as such, they may not need a tool like NationBuilder. What’s unique is that we’re saying, look: times have changed. We need to get smart about organizing and we need to figure out how to activate our supporters, because there’s a real battle going on. We need to find ways to use tools like NationBuilder because that’s what it takes to be able to effectively organize.”

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