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North Bay Business Journal

Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 10:06 am

Poll: 74% of Sonoma Co. residents, 65% of businesses support local green-energy grid

Survey intended to gauge support for proposed Sonoma Clean Power program

By Sonoma County Water Agency

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    SANTA ROSA – A survey of Sonoma County residents found strong support for clean-energy options, including solar and wind power, and for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

    “It’s not surprising that people support clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Sonoma County Water Agency Director Efren Carrillo. “Sonoma County residents understand the importance of making changes to reduce the impacts of climate change and protecting the environment. This survey provides additional information for the board as it determines next steps.”

    The Community Choice Aggregation Market Survey conducted by Data Instincts for the Sonoma County Water Agency of 4,344 residents found that:

    • 84 percent of residents think it is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    • 83 percent of residents are supportive of “having a choice in how [their] electricity is generated.”
    • 79 percent of residents support the creation of a locally controlled electricity portfolio that reinvests ratepayer revenues back into the local economy.
    • 78 percent of residents think it is important that their “electricity comes from clean sources like solar and wind as opposed to fuels like nuclear and natural gas.”
    • 74 percent of residents are supportive of having a community owned electricity program that sources clean and renewable power.

    The survey also indicated that keeping electricity rates stable and competitive is important to residents. While 18 percent of residents said they weren’t willing to pay any additional costs for clean energy, 37 percent said they would pay more. An additional 41 percent said they weren’t willing to pay “much” more.

    A second survey was conducted of businesses, with 990 respondents. The web-based survey was solicited through an outreach email sent by Sonoma County Water Agency Chairwoman Shirlee Zane and through chambers of commerce and other business associations.

    “It’s important that we get feedback from businesses about key issues that affect their power purchase decisions,” said Ms. Zane. “The survey gives us additional information that could help make Sonoma Clean Power a success.”

    The commercial survey found that:

    • 86 percent of businesses believe it is at least moderately important that electricity rates remain stable from year to year.
    • 77 percent think it is at least moderately important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    • 75 percent are at least moderately supportive of their company having a choice in how their electricity is generated.
    • 69 percent are at least moderately supportive of having electricity produced locally if they knew the revenues would be reinvested back into the local economy.
    • 67 percent think it is at least moderately important to their company that their “electricity comes from clean sources like solar and wind as opposed to fuels like nuclear and natural gas.”
    • 65 percent are at least moderately supportive of having a local and renewable electricity source owned by the community.

    *On a scale of Very supportive/Very important, Moderately supportive/Moderately important, Slightly supportive/Slightly important, and Not at all supportive/Not at all important.

    “This survey provides a good gauge of where the community stands on the issues. The Board will carefully take the results into consideration as we determine next steps,” said Sonoma County Water Agency Director Mike McGuire.

    The surveys are one element of a multi-step process to determine whether Sonoma Clean Power, a community choice aggregation (CCA) program, should be formed in Sonoma County. The full surveys can be found at www.scwa.ca.gov/cca.

    In October, the water agency board reviewed the results of a CCA feasibility study and unanimously voted to explore the issue further. One of the steps in that process was determining the breadth and depth of support for a program that could provide an alternative power provider.

    Legislation approved in 2002 allows California cities, counties or joint powers authorities comprised of two or more cities and counties to implement a CCA program. Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 8, 2011, signed Senate Bill 790, expanding this authority to public agencies such as Sonoma County Water Agency with authority to generate and deliver power to retail customers.

    To date, Marin County has formed the only fully operational CCA under the 2002 legislation. Marin Clean Energy is a program operated by the Marin Energy Authority, a joint powers authority composed of county and several city governments.

    Customers within a CCA service area can opt out of the CCA and continue to receive power from the utility (e.g., PG&E). Those who do not opt out will have their power supplied by the CCA. The utility continues to bill CCA customers for power generation, transmission and other services (e.g., meter reading, billing, etc.). Only the electricity generation portion of electricity service is provided by the CCA entity.

    The residential  study was coordinated and conducted by Data Instincts, with assistance from Santa Rosa-based Delphi, to gauge initial perceptions among residential ratepayers about electricity rates, renewable energy and local economic development in Sonoma County. Specifically, the study sought to better understand and assess the level of potential interest and possible public support for the formation of Sonoma Clean Power.

    A 12-question telephone survey was developed and deemed the most appropriate methodology for reaching a broad cross section of residents in all five supervisorial districts in Sonoma County in a cost effective manner. This survey was conducted Feb. 7 from 5:30–8:30 p.m. Responses from 4,344 households were recorded countywide from residential utility ratepayers in all five districts.

    The commercial study was coordinated and conducted by Data Instincts, with assistance from Petaluma based Creative Research Systems, to gauge initial perceptions among commercial ratepayers about electricity rates and renewable energy in Sonoma County. A short, 12-question web survey was developed and deemed the most appropriate methodology for reaching a broad cross section of business/commercial ratepayers in all five supervisorial districts in Sonoma County in a cost effective manner.

    To foster participation in the survey, Ms. Zane sent an email invitation. Several chambers of commerce and a local winegrowers association participated by sending the email to their members. Additional email addresses came from a purchased list that was comprised of a broad cross-section of Sonoma County businesses, large to small, within all five supervisorial districts.

    While every effort was made to reach owners and senior level executives, such as CEOs, CFOs and COOs, it is likely that some respondents occupied mid-level management or support staff positions. Although, 1,209 respondents clicked on the survey link and answered at least some of the 12 questions, the analysis includes only the 990 who completed the entire survey.

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