Energy: Utilities must strike balance
In my experience with energy utility research including surveys and focus groups, there is often a tendency for respondents to gravitate toward the morally “favorable” answer at the moment [reference Colo-rado Springs Utilities “Green Power” survey article and Editor's Desk column in Feb. 7 Westside Pioneer]. Many of these research respondents know that they would never officially “vote” for a staggering increase to their energy bills, but voting is a much more private activity.
In the face of peers, surveyors or focus group facilitators, respondents are much more likely to indicate preferences that mirror popular themes, which in this case is the entire Green Movement - reducing the carbon footprint, recycling, using energy more wisely, renewable energy, etc.
If we examine this behaviorally, the group known as Early Adopters are much more likely to support these initiatives, but only when they offer Practical Lifestyle Solutions -blending the “smart choices” seamlessly into their normal lifestyles. This may translate to a willingness to pay some premium, but only if the benefit can justify the expense. Example: The Toyota Prius offers significant alternatives to gas-guzzling SUVs. But at a reported $27,000, many consumers who have run the numbers have discovered that the cost of “doing the right thing” does not provide a payback for 10 years and ultimately concluded that this alternative fails the “Practical Lifestyle Solutions” criteria.
The 463 survey respondents - slightly less than half of the overall sample size who proactively called on the strength of the Utility's bill insert - most likely represent the more environmentally concerned. Renewable energy appeals to this group who supports environmental responsibility, but as the Utilities spokesman pointed out, most probably do not represent the financial commitment of the masses.
Given the wide-open spaces between here and the Kansas state line, wind energy generation seems like a plausible, clean alternative to building another coal-fired plant. But implementation must also be cost-effective - a careful balance that Utilities must strike.
The Editor's Desk observation is accurate that there are many other causes and projects that seem to scream for financial support in this city-a reality in any American city. My read is that many of these projects, while important to some, are viewed as a local version of pork-barrel spending that would spread the cost over the masses yet benefit the few. Other projects historically result in the profitability of the few and should be funded privately. Consumers often feel inundated with requests to financially support many of these causes and initiatives, but may not feel like their support would make a contribution to the “loftier” protection of the planet.
In final analysis, Colorado Springs is a growing community. Our energy needs are escalating. We need to support initiatives that will ensure that our Utility will be able to continue providing reliable, cost-effective, environmentally responsible supplies of energy and water. Without these initiatives, any other community amenities will become insignificant. Whatever the cost differential, it must be spread across the entire, benefiting customer base to remain cost-effective. It simply cannot be borne by a vocal minority who may be more willing to embrace the challenge early.
D. Wendal Attig
Gold Hill Mesa