Bridging the divide with Stakeholder Relations

By Dana Simone

Today’s energy customers and communities are savvy, forward-thinking, and deeply mindful of the environment. Not only do they want a more resilient, efficient, and environmentally-sound  21stcentury energy network, they want to be involved in building it. That’s why “putting customers in charge” and “embracing our tech partners” is part of our Connect21 strategy. And it’s why stakeholder engagement is embedded in the way we work.

What exactly is stakeholder engagement?

Shannon Baxevanis, manager of Stakeholder Relations, Project Management & Complex Construction (PM&CC), says her team of six specialists “bridges the divide between the company and the customer”. The team – Danielle Aretz, Stacy Blundell, Kevin Cushing, Erin Gryniak and Ronald Lelonek – supports project managers on electric transmission projects in both New England and New York.

Bridging the divide can be complex itself. The approach to stakeholder relations has evolved from telling people only what they need to know, to including them in the why and how a complex project should proceed. That means working with the various regulatory bodies that approve, site and permit our projects at the federal, state and local levels. And it means telling a simple, non-technical story that promotes project benefits and prevents, minimizes, or delays opposition.

Each project is different and the team may customize their approach to address pertinent internal or external needs. Still, the overall approach covers all these bases:

  • Relationship Management: forging and directing needed relationships
  • Strategic Communications: consistent and direct messaging
  • Public Relations: favorable public image
  • Marketing: promoting and selling products or services
  • Issue Management: anticipating, addressing, and negotiating

Aquidneck-IslandTo test how strong this bridge is, one needs to look no further than the Aquidneck Island Reliability Project in Rhode Island.

Project goal: Increase electricity reliability and resiliency by investing $90 million in upgrades to the current transmission, distribution and substation infrastructure. A five-year project slated to be complete in 2020, this includes upgrading two transmission lines, located in National Grid-owned rights-of-way, from 69kV to 115kV.

Stakeholder Relations goal: Engage stakeholders in three targeted communities, mitigate concerns, garner support, and showcase the project as a Connect21 example.

The team’s approach has been creative, comprehensive, and memorable. To bridge the divide between the company and the residents of Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport, RI, the Stakeholder Relations team has done the following:

  • Given the project a name: onisland. Hyper-local, it connects people with the project directly
  • Created both a multi-page brochure and a one-page fact sheet
  • Armed field crews with tear-sheets stating the What, Why, When and more
  • Distributed abutter postcards and letters
  • Built a website detailing project information and updates
  • Developed an interactive map for use in the website and at open houses
  • Engaged customers on Twitter
  • Produced a video about the project
  • Hosted open houses for residents
  • Conducted a webinar for residents
  • Arranged one-on-one meetings with impacted abutters

Shannon is matter-of-fact: “If we’re not giving the information, people are going to come to their own conclusions.”

There are more than 800 projects within PM&CC and a growing demand for stakeholder services. So the team continues to do what they like best – exercise creativity in approaching a complex project and communicating the process to stakeholders. All part of advancing and protecting the company’s reputation, and facilitating the timely completion of important projects that deliver benefits to our customers.

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