SEDA’s FiT – Part 1: A Blogger’s Workshop

This will be one of a 2 or even 3 post series by myself on a Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA)-hosted Blogger workshop that Jun-e and I attended last Sunday morning about Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariffs (RE FiT) in Malaysia.  Jun-e will also be writing from her perspective and I’ll write in more detail about the contents of the workshop in my next post, but for this post I wanted to talk about the actual workshop, which I thought was a really interesting idea.

An interestingly organised workshop

We were all paid RM100 in AEON vouchers each to go to the workshop.  Now considering the workshop was on Feed-in Tariffs in Malaysia (and provided a 5 star hotel buffet lunch) I would have happily gone along without being paid anyway, despite the 9am start time on a Sunday morning.

The goody-bag: Lots of literature, notebooks, a lunchbox, pen, badges, bracelet, laptop bag and AEON vouchers

The goody-bag: Lots of literature, notebooks, a lunchbox, pen, badges, bracelet, laptop bag and AEON vouchers

However it quickly became clear that my fellow blogger attendees might not have felt the same way.  Casual questioning of various individuals on the day about what they mainly blogged about yielded answers such as “Usually myself.  Also Koreans (pop stars), I love my Koreans!” and “Mostly about myself.  And also about the kids I work with” and “The KL Stock Exchange”.  So, an interesting group of bloggers to invite to a workshop on Feed-in Tariffs.  I suspected that Jun-e and I, with existing environmental interests, were flukes.  This was quickly confirmed when we had a quick introduction to climate change followed by some questions, where we learnt that only about half the room had ever heard of renewable energy, and only 3 people, including me and Jun-e, had heard of Fukushima.

But this made the whole workshop a far more interesting strategy from SEDA.  We originally thought they were reaching out to the political, environmental, and social bloggers (and their readers) who were probably already thinking about these issues, to try and convince them of the validity of the FiT.  However by reaching out to these other bloggers, who had wide readerships but ones who generally didn’t read the newspaper and probably had not thought much on the issue, they were reaching an entirely new audience and, hopefully, getting them to think about renewable energy and the FiT and to view these issues from angles they probably would not have been exposed to if not for the workshop.

SEDA’s Main Issue – a 1% Levy

By SEDA’s own admission during the morning presentation it quickly became clear what the main issue was, for the general public which SEDA are obviously trying to reach.  The Feed-in Tariff scheme is funded by a 1% renewable energy charge on every householder’s bill above 300 Kwh (RM77 at the current rate). An additional 1% rise had previously been approved for the renewable energy fund, although this is currently under review by the ministry.

Given the recent petrol subsidy cut, and a healthy suspicion of the government, the Rakyat has been loudly wondering whether the SEDA 1% is really just going to line the pockets of government official.  The workshop organisers showed us some newspaper articles and screen captures from Facebook to demonstrate some of the Rakyat displeasure.

Rakyat displeasure. Copyright: SEDA Malaysia

Rakyat displeasure. Copyright: SEDA Malaysia

An Education 

So it’s no wonder SEDA are trying to get the ordinary public on their side through ordinary bloggers.  But for this, a large education effort had to happen, in order to get these untrained bloggers to understand what the FiT was and why it was needed.  For a 4 hour workshop the scope was huge: a quick introduction to climate change, an explanation of renewable energy and how they fit into Malaysia’s commitment to cutting GHGs (40% cut in GHG intensity by 2020 from 2005 levels), an explanation of the Feed-in Tariff with some background context and how the 1% (possibly to become 2%) electricity price levy fits in, a quick foray into solar-PV and how together with FiT it ‘democratizes energy’ (more in a later post!), energy efficiency, break-off sessions to go into more detail about various renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency and finally a question and answer session with the SEDA Chief Executive Officer and Chief Corporate Officer.


Break-out session for energy efficiency

Payment! (A Blogging Incentive)

We were also told, to make sure their massive effort was not wasted, that we would be paid for each blog post we wrote on the topic, up to 5 a month.  I sympathise with SEDA and don’t want it to get picked up that this is what their 1% is getting spent on, but I would say that the payment per blog post is not an insignificant amount, and with 5 blog posts a month this should be enough for a Malaysian to get by without any extra work, including renting a modest room (or it would be, if it was paid in cash, which I’m not too clear about as yet).  5 blog posts on one topic a month sounds like a lot though, and eventually one might run out of things to say.  However, the workshop organisers promised that further workshops would be run including a chance to go out and see a biogas plant, giving more fodder for more blog posts.

At first glance it might seem like a lot to spend on an untested strategy, however SEDA remarked that they had originally used television advertising, but their advertisements were run in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, so this might be a more cost-effective strategy.  People who read blogs regularly might also not be television watchers or newspaper readers, so this is a new audience for SEDA.  Bloggers are also uniquely able to tailor their posts to their readership and, crucially, answer comments from them.  We were also encouraged to “write whatever you want”, which makes me less wary of the thought that we might be part of a SEDA astroturfing operation.  I mean to indicate whenever I write a ‘sponsored’ blog, and there didn’t seem to be any efforts to ask bloggers to hide this.

But what will the outcomes be?

After the event, during our delicious lunch, I spoke to a few of my blogger attendees to gauge their reaction to the workshop and the payments.  Everyone I asked said they would definitely write about it, but a few were still uncertain about convincing their readership about the 1%.  They told me that they had been to similar events for the entertainment industry, but never one for government policy.  I took a few blog URLs down and will be checking them to see what they write and how this strategy pans out.  I thought the event was well run given the scope and time, and I understood all that was spoken about, however I am well aware that I was one of the very few with previous interest, let alone education and experience in this field.  So it would be very interesting to see how much other bloggers took in and what kind of angle they will approach this from.

We’ve heard of astroturfing before, but, given what I saw and experienced, I think it would be unfair to put that label on this strategy.  I feel like SEDA were genuinely trying to educate blogger attendees and equip them with the background knowledge in order to write about FiT in their own words, rather than to sway them to their side of the issue.  Perhaps there might be outrage at the thought of paying bloggers for social media exposure but I can’t help but feel that it can’t hurt to get people who have shown their ability to hold a large readership to write commentary on policies and bring these to the masses who would otherwise have no knowledge or opinion.

In my next post I’ll actually talk about the Malaysian Feed-in Tariff, but in the meantime I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on this blogging workshop.

A present hidden in the laptop bag - the 2011 annual report and the renewable energy policy and action plan! They will be used for the next post...

A present hidden in the laptop bag – the 2011 annual report and the renewable energy policy and action plan! They will be used for the next post…

I’m not sure if I’ll get paid for this blog post – I don’t think it was quite what the organisers had in mind when they invited us to blog, but I’ll keep you posted!

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