We learned from this experience and others like it. Developing an energy site requires a fundamentally open approach to all stakeholders. This is not just true for Italy; in most places throughout the United States and Europe today, you can encounter the same kind of objection.
The way we prepare now is not different from a technical standpoint. But it’s very different from a project development standpoint. For example, right now we are proposing to renovate a coal plant south of Venice. This site has been running for 40 years, with the best technology of 1968. Since then, technology has made a lot of progress: Our plan would improve the plant’s efficiency from 38 percent to 45 percent and slash specific emissions — about 88 percent reductions for sulfur dioxide and dust and about 61 percent for nitrous oxide. Moreover, we are experimenting with frontier technology to run turbines off the hydrogen gas from a nearby refinery that would otherwise go to waste.
Technologically, our overall proposition is very logical: We replace an older site with a new investment that is more efficient and more acceptable from an environmental perspective. But we still have to convince local residents that we will not destroy their property, and that this will not affect life in their community.
Can we prove this just by publishing the scientific data — the results of emissions tests, for instance? No way; that wouldn’t be enough. We have to go into the community, to the parish, the shop, the street. We have to bring people to other places where such plants are up and running. In particular, we have to talk to the local fishermen.
S+B: Because of the river water?
CONTI: Yes, a power plant uses water from the river and dumps water back into the river system. Clam and mussel farmers in the area want to make sure that the clams and mussels will not suffer. If we don’t take the broader view of integrating this project within the community, we’re bound to face resistance. And that would be difficult to overcome.
That is what brought us to the megacommunity idea. When we develop a new power facility, people whom we would not normally think of as being involved will be involved, whether we like it or not. We’ve learned to structure the project in a way that prevents local residents from automatically opposing it, because they can now recognize some of the reasons that the project is worthwhile. They have been involved in planning it and we know why they’re concerned, and thus we have designed the project accordingly.
Attitudes and Impact
S+B: How do you manage this intense local activity at the same time that you’ve begun to do business at a global level?
CONTI: The more international our operations, the more reason there is for the local community to use that as an argument against the site: “If you’re a global company, go somewhere else to make your energy.” But we still need the power plants located near the energy consumers. And we need the plants near logistic hubs where we can import raw materials.
In the short term, that means working with megacommunities in all the areas where Enel is building or maintaining facilities — and developing the general skill for that kind of engagement. That’s what we are working toward now: learning to research the stakeholders in communities; to talk with them effectively; and to build a megacommunity approach that considers the environmental factors, the job issues, the power needs, and the security concerns all together.
S+B: To make this kind of approach work, how do people in a company like Enel have to change? What do they have to learn to do differently?
CONTI: A lot has to change. Think about the evolution of this company. Ten years ago, it was a government-owned utility — and a stubborn type of organization, unassailable. It had world-class engineering, but it was entrenched in its own philosophy.