CAMPAIGNS: Community relations - Generating good power plant vibes

Client: CMS Energy (Dearborn, MI)

Client: CMS Energy (Dearborn, MI)

Client: CMS Energy (Dearborn, MI)



PR Team: The MWW Group’s Midwest office (Chicago)



Campaign: Dearborn Industrial Generation Project



Time Frame: Nov. 1998 to Nov. 1999



Budget: Under dollars 100,000





Getting government and community backing for a new power plant can be a

dicey exercise. Concerns about safety and pollution can derail such

projects.



CMS Energy understood the challenges it faced in getting approval to

build a massive new natural gas power plant in Dearborn, MI, to supply

power to Ford Motor Co.’s Rouge facility and to neighboring Rouge

Steel.



The plant will replace a coal-fired facility Ford runs for its Rouge

plant.



MWW Group had worked with CMS, as well as with other utilities, and so

its Midwest office was asked to put together a strategic education

campaign.



CMS expected state hearings on the plant in May or June 1999. It brought

in MWW the previous November, wisely deciding on an early start.





Strategy



MWW wanted to reach local government officials in Dearborn and Wayne

County. ’We needed their support for the state to take a favorable look

at the project,’ explains John Digles, MWW account supervisor. CMS was

also seeking local tax abatements.



MWW’s plan was to open a dialog with community and environmental groups

and to obtain third-party support by contacting local businesses and

business groups. The agency would also seek to raise the profile of CMS

in the Dearborn area. While the utility is based there, it had not

operated facilities in the area and had been a low-profile corporate

citizen.





Tactics



Local officials were given packets containing information about CMS, the

project and the economic benefits the new plant would bring. Letters and

memos kept them updated on the project. Five major local community and

environmental groups were contacted and meetings were set up.



The proposed plant would exceed the capacity required by Ford and Rouge

(CMS expected to sell excess power to other utilities) so CMS ’needed to

show need for the size,’ Digles says. ’One of our major challenges with

the environmental people was size.’



MWW stressed the environmental benefits of a gas facility compared with

coal, especially with key constituents like the principal of a nearby

school. ’This is a woman who came to work every day and literally wiped

the coal dust off her books,’ Digles says.



Local businesses and organizations were contacted. The new plant was

positioned as a solution for power shortages the area had faced in the

past. To raise the company’s profile in the community, CMS’ director of

business development, E.P. ’Ted’ Barrett, became more visible at local

events.





Results



The company’s early efforts paid off when tragedy struck in February: an

explosion in the existing Ford plant killed two workers. Having met with

local groups, officials and businesses, CMS was able to weather the

problems Ford had with little negative fallout, Digles says.



State hearings didn’t begin until July - later than expected - but when

they were ’much less of a climactic battle than they (CMS) had

expected,’ Digles says. CMS had put on its own public meeting in May to

field citizens’ questions about the project. Letters of support from the

school principal and from the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, an

influential local business group, resulted from the PR effort and helped

secure state approval.





Future



With the plant being built in phases, CMS expects to maintain an ongoing

dialog with various groups. It has also agreed to take on clean-up and

renovation projects at the school, again showing its desire to be a good

corporate citizen.



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