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How Much Are Residents Willing To Pay For Renewable Energy?

Newton Goes Green

Geographic results

From Oak Hill Park to Nonantum, thousands of residents of Newton, Massachusetts responded to a recent single-question survey from Mayor Ruthanne Fuller through Involved. The survey asked for feedback on willingness to pay for additional clean renewable electricity.

The question is helping inform the city on what default rate to set for a new electricity purchasing program known as Newton Power Choice. This program provides price stability and an increased percentage of renewable energy. Residents will receive the default renewable energy automatically, and it is possible that more renewables will not cost more than Basic Service.

“Replacing fossil fuels with renewable power to generate electricity is one of the keys to addressing climate change,” Mayor Fuller described in the poll. Residents responded with their preferred price point and private comments.

Disclaimer: These results are not statistically significant due to the selective ability to respond and share. However, the quantity of responses and comments provide insight into overall sentiment, top concerns, and interest in this proposal.

A Divide In Perspective

Survey results data

3,360 respondents weighed in with feedback, ranging from full support to non-interest. 586 comments built perspective on what mattered to Newton residents.  How much more are Newtonites willing to pay per month for additional clean renewable electricity?

35% of respondents chose $0 per month as their desired rate for additional renewable energy. The opposed commented on the high cost of living in Newton, expressed concern for those on fixed income and the elderly, and requested an opt-out option for the program.

24% chose $20 per month in additional charges. Residents that showed full support of the program highlighted the importance of sustainability and excitement for Newton to lead the way. Many were willing to pay above $20/month.

21% of respondents supported $10. 12% selected $5, and 8% chose $15. These residents commented on renewable efforts that they had already made, such as installing solar panels, and had questions about supplier accountability and other specifics of the program. Dozens of residents offered ideas for alternative sustainability strategies involving solar panels, fossil fuel, and road repair.

Overall, 65% of respondents supported paying more for additional renewable energy with an average cost of $8.7/month.

“My concern is how it would affect fixed income folks…”

In a city with an average cost of living nearly twice the state average, many residents shared financial concern for the initiative. Some expressed concern for elderly on fixed income or feel that they already pay too much. “Newton needs to exempt seniors from this.. to help retirees and people with limited resources.. to remain in their homes and in their community,” a resident commented. Several discussed solar installations, wind energy plans, and other renewable energy efforts that they had already taken privately. Some respondents shared skepticism about clean energy and suggested other ways to improve the carbon footprint, such as fixing the roads.

24% Willing To Pay $20 Extra

Many Newtonites have high hopes for a sustainable Newton. “There is nothing more important than the rapid transition off of fossil fuels,” wrote one concerned resident. “Many Newton residents are feeling desperate right now.” An impressive 24% of Newton residents painted their support by selecting the $20 per month option. Local environmental group Green Newton is also pushing for the program: “By setting a higher percentage of renewable sources as the default, we as a city can have a powerful influence on reducing our collective carbon footprint.”

What’s Trending Nationally?

Last year, wind and solar power represented 61% of all new electricity generating capacity installed in the U.S. In 2017, Newton’s home of Massachusetts ranked 2nd nationally in clean-tech activities among all 50 states. In many regions nationally, utility-scale wind and solar, even without subsidies, now beats coal, nuclear, and even combined-cycle natural gas on cost for new generation assets.

What is the future for Newton and clean energy? What should it cost residents? The decision on the default rate will be made by the end of November and due to fluctuating rates there is a chance that the program may even cost less than the Basic Service. When this decision is made, respondents to the survey will be reminded to opt up or opt out of the program depending on how they answered. This next step of outreach is key to ensure that people who are unable to pay are made aware that they do not have to, as well as remind people to opt up who expressed interest in doing so.

On January 28th, 2019, Mayor Fuller updated respondents to the poll. “Thank you for responding to the question I sent out in November on Newton Power Choice. We were delighted by all of the feedback that we got from the nearly 3,400 residents who responded. We've combed through all of the comments to answer the frequently asked questions.” Mayor Fuller continued with detailed explanations to commenter questions, such “How do we know the energy is truly green?”, “Why does renewable energy cost more?”, and “What if I already use my own solar panels?”.

Caleb McDermott