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Ferro: Survey says — sustainability

By David Ferro - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 25, 2022

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David Ferro

This past winter, Ogden City and Weber State’s Community Research Extension conducted the Community Renewable Energy Program (CREP) survey. It showed a majority of the public supports investing in renewable energy.

CREP came about through 2019’s Utah Legislature House Bill 411 to allow communities, and individuals within those communities, to procure utility-generated renewable energy (or net zero energy), up to 100%, by 2030. Ogden City Council, at the behest of numerous citizens, voted in December 2019 to join 22 other communities in exploring the initiative.

The CRE program will work with Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) to establish a rate energy users would pay to support investment in renewable energy production. Once the new rates are established, individual, corporate and government entities in the communities can, if they choose, opt out and pay the rates as they are currently determined instead.

While an assumption exists that renewable energy production requires a premium for CREP, that hasn’t been determined. Energy production models have shown decreasing costs for renewables to the extent that, for example, utilities have accelerated taking coal-generated production offline, not for environmental reasons, but for comparative costs. For proponents, the hope remains that energy costs using CREP actually undercut existing rates in the future.

Nevertheless, Ogden City had concerns about how the public would view rate increases, especially lower-income residents. The city, through council member Angela Choberka, worked with the Center for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL) to create an objective survey and find out.

Four CCEL faculty and staff members, all experts in surveys, and approximately 25 students created, conducted and analyzed the survey. The team sent out about 8,600 postcards and 1,400 emails explaining the initiative. The subsequent surveys had unique codes per recipient so only recipients could fill it out. There was concern in city council work meetings to ensure the study’s objectivity, so the team worked to fairly represent the city’s population with demographic information like income, municipal district, education, gender and more.

Students knocked on doors to increase participation and the resulting approximately 8% response rate proved the validity of the survey. While lower-income residents were slightly less represented because of response rates, the team weighted the results to compensate.

The results proved enlightening and definitely pro-sustainability. Over 70% of residents thought all of us — businesses, local governments and even themselves — should do more to seek out renewable energy solutions. The amount extra residents would pay for electricity ranged from zero to over 250%. Overall, a majority of Ogden residents are willing to pay 9.3% more for renewable energy.

Lower-income residents did show less interest in paying more, but over 61% of those making less than $30,000 still showed a willingness. Over 75% of those making $30,000-$70,000 were willing and about 79% of those making more than $70,000 were as well.

While some debate exists about survey respondents overstating what they are willing to pay (called hypothetical bias), in a separate corroborating question regarding opting out of CREP, far more residents actually offered to pay more in energy. In fact, only 14.1% said they would opt out at a 1% increase in costs, ranging to only 24.2% opting out even with costs rising 25%.

The CRE program saw positive support. Over 61% of businesses believed Ogden should join CREP. Only 8.9% of residents thought Ogden City should not join.

Without a doubt, getting to net zero in 10 years has some challenges. Of course, net zero doesn’t mean every watt generated and used in Ogden will be from renewable sources, only that the comparative amount of wattage generated in the RMP system will equal what would have been created through fossil fuels.

Additionally, while there’s discussion about needing base load electricity supplied by coal and gas, we have a long way to go before we need to worry about that in Utah. Currently, coal and natural gas generate 61% and 24% of electricity in Utah, respectively, while 14% comes from renewables. Meanwhile, Denmark and Kenya both produce 50% of their electricity from renewables. Uruguay renewably produces almost 100%. Even the U.S. as a whole has up to 20% coming from renewable sources.

However we increase renewable energy sourcing in Ogden, residents are willing to put their money where their mouths are. The people have spoken: They will pay for renewable energy.

Dr. David Ferro is dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology at Weber State University. Twitter: DavidFerro9

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