(Editor's note: Sonoma Clean Power is a program being developed by the Sonoma County Water Agency to purchase electricity for Sonoma County customers. This program has multiple benefits and risks, is complex and not well understood by Sonoma County residents and businesses. In order to help the North Bay Business Journal readers understand the various aspects of Sonoma Clean Power, the Journal is partnering with the Sonoma County Water Agency to publish a series of articles discussing the various aspects of this effort. This article, the fourth in a series, discusses the outcome of public surveys conducted with Sonoma County residents and businesses.)
From January to June of 2012 a series of surveys and interviews were conducted among Sonoma County residents and businesses to determine the public’s opinion of a community choice aggregation (CCA) program in Sonoma County. The results of these surveys indicated general support from the public however a significant level of skepticism was present within the business community. A lack of information about CCA and its impact in Sonoma County was one of the clearest outcomes of the survey process and was one of the leading drivers for this series of articles regarding Sonoma Clean Power.Residential surveys
A telephone survey of residential ratepayers was conducted to gauge perceptions about electricity rates, renewable energy and local economic development in Sonoma County. 4,344 Sonoma County residents responded with the following key findings: 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 and 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.
To better understand the above responses and residents’ value of a local power entity, 15 survey respondents who had indicated that they “were not willing to pay much for more clean power” were selected to participate in an in-depth interview process. All 15 interview participants stated that they would be willing to pay $5 a month more for electricity provided by Sonoma Clean Power and 11 participants indicated that they would pay $10 more monthly.Business surveys
An email survey was also conducted of owners, managers and executives of Sonoma County businesses. 990 responses were obtained and the findings summarized as follows: 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 having a choice in how their electricity is generated, 69 percent are at least moderately supportive of having electricity produced locally if 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 and 65 percent are at least moderately supportive of having a local and renewable electricity source owned by the community.
Specific to cost sensitivity, the surveys indicated that 35 percent of businesses are unwilling to pay much more than their current energy expenses for clean power, 32 percent are not willing to pay any more and 23 percent would pay somewhat more.
To gain deeper insight into local business attitudes than was possible through an email survey, in-depth interviews were conducted among 20 local businesses. The majority of businesses interviewed stated that it is at least moderately important to their company that electricity comes from clean power sources as opposed to non-renewable sources. However, many consider it only slightly important and a couple respondents said it is not important at all.
All companies interviewed had existing energy efficiency measures in place and the majority said they would invest in additional energy efficiency if it led to additional cost savings. A few noted that additional energy efficiency improvements would be dependent upon a strong investment payback. Additionally, a few respondents noted some positive aspects of local government driving Sonoma County toward a cleaner environment -- job creation and the benefits of setting up a competitive environment in the energy business being chief among them.
Amy Christopherson Bolten (707-547-1918, firstname.lastname@example.org) is the public information officer for Sonoma County Water Agency.