NW Residents Willingness To Pay For Renewable

Apr 10, 2012

Northwest residents say they want more clean energy and less of their electricity from fossil fuels.

Renewable energy has been praised for its ability to provide power without releasing carbon emissions into the air. Wind, solar, biomass and geothermal are currently in use in the Northwest. But so is coal, natural gas and nuclear.

“I’m concerned about what we’re leaving for our future generations," says Boise resident Alex Feldman. "And I guess I don’t want to go down in history as the generation that sort of screwed it up.”

Feldman is responding to the question - would you pay more for renewable energy? Feldman says he supports renewable energy because it would reduce the environmental impact versus burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Those we spoke to said they would like to pay a little more for renewables...each for their own reasons.

“But eventually we are going to run out of oil," says Lothar Pietz of Boise, "and then we are going to have to do something different and we might as well do it now.”

“I think also that if I had to pay a little bit more, not only would I be reducing my footprint but I would also have a little bit more of an incentive to actually reduce my energy consumption even more," says Boise resident Jamie Utz,"because it’s a bit more expensive, you know - that’s going to come out of my pocket.”

They aren’t alone. In a survey conducted for EarthFix by DHM Research - people here in the Northwest have a growing appetite for green energy. John Horvick works at DHM Research and says when people were asked to determine how much renewable energy is in the system today versus what they would prefer in ten years. “Today they think it’s about twenty percent of their portfolio comes from that. But they would like those sources to increase to 45 or 46% ten years from now.”

So people say they want more renewable energy ... But are they willing to pay for it?  Utilities in the Northwest have programs that let customers do just that. They can pay a premium for green energy programs that put money into the development of wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects.  Portland General Electric leads the nation in signing up customers for renewable energy programs. Spokesman Steve Corson explains. “Here in our service territory and the Portland area and the Willamette Valley, we have a high level of awareness about energy issues. And an interest in renewable power and a desire to reduce...our customers have a desire to reduce their environmental footprint. And I think that's reflected in our enrollment numbers.”

So exactly how many PGE customers are signed up to pay more for green power? Last year, the total was 10 percent.  That rate is even lower elsewhere in the Northwest.  Seattle City Light in Washington had less than three percent of its customers enroll in the green power program in 2011. Among Idaho Power customers, enrollment was less than 1 percent.  Idaho Power vice-president Lisa Grow explains why. “You know, there is a lot of people that already think they are paying for green power because they think our power is mostly green because we are usually half hydro.”

Christine Acosta of Oregon says she already pays too much for power and can’t afford an increase to help expand green energy. She blames the recession...perhaps a big reason Idaho Power and Seattle City Light recorded small declines in their green power programs between 2010 and 2011.

Cost does play a factor. That is not lost on Idaho’s Jamie Utz, who says she could afford to pay up to $50-dollars more a month. “We do have to pay for it initially up front and hopefully it will lead to alternative energy that isn’t so expensive because it will become more commonplace.”

Jamie Utz believes that the price for renewables will drop over the years, making it more cost efficient for users.