Survey measures member attitudes

Cooperative member plugging in an electric device

Seventy-six percent of surveyed cooperative members believe it’s a good idea for utilities to diversify their generation portfolios to include more renewable resources, with 68 percent also supporting the addition of more transmission lines to support the development of wind power.

Great River Energy conducted a quantitative survey to gauge the opinions of cooperative members in its service area on numerous energy-related issues.

This year’s survey showed that affordability remains the top priority for consumers, and that there less urgency regarding energy and environmental issues. Respondents indicated they are selective when considering the inclusion of “green practices” at their home.

“As a cooperative that values feedback from members, Great River Energy also takes these survey results into consideration during various decision-making processes and when we develop communications materials,” said Therese LaCanne, manager of communications at Great River Energy.

This is the fifth biennial survey conducted since 2008 with several of the same questions to track public attitudes on key topics over time, along with new questions pertaining to the ever-changing technologies in the industry.

Optimistic about affordability

A consistent theme among past surveys conducted is that a majority of members believe electricity is generally affordable for most families and businesses. This year was no different as 78 percent of members agreed.

While this was a steady result throughout past surveys, a sharp contrast was seen this time in views of future affordability compared to previous years. Seventy-six percent of members reported they are not concerned about the future affordability of electricity compared to the 82 percent in 2008, 76 percent in 2010, 57 percent in 2012 and 43 percent in 2008 that said they were concerned.

Most members perceive electricity as affordableAffordability was also identified as the most important expectation consumers have of their electricity provider. Sixty-two percent cited it as their top choice, while 22 percent chose reliability, 10 percent said environmental practices and 6 percent said having programs to reduce consumption and costs.

Renewables, ‘green practices’

Attitudes regarding energy and environmental issues have shifted since this survey was first conducted in 2008. At that time, 44 percent of respondents said encouraging the development of renewable energy was the most important environmental issue. Now, the environmental issue named a top priority by survey respondents (40 percent) focused on clean water.

A majority – 76 percent – said they believe electric utilities diversifying their generation portfolios to include more renewable resources is a good idea, with 68 percent also supporting the addition of more transmission and power lines to support the development of wind power. When asked about balancing environmental costs to consumers and the economy, 48 percent said they would be willing to pay “modest costs” to protect the environment, which has declined from 74 percent in 2010.

Of the energy options currently available, 26 percent noted solar as the type of energy source they most want to encourage in Minnesota, followed by 20 percent for natural gas and 13 percent for wind.

Energy efficiency and demand response programs have played an integral role in electric cooperatives meeting state conservation goals. More than half of survey respondents – 63 percent – indicated an interest in postponing use of some appliances to off-peak hours in order to get lower rates from their utility. Fifty-three percent also said they would be likely to participate in some home conservation programs if energy costs were to stay at their current levels or rise.

Although only 7 percent have installed self-generation, such as solar panels, 51 percent said they may be interested in participating in a community solar program.

Co-op satisfaction remains high

Another constant among these surveys is member satisfaction with electric cooperatives. This year, 96 percent indicated they are satisfied with the energy provider to their home, of which 48 percent are very satisfied. Member satisfaction has been above 95 percent each year this survey has been conducted.

Further, 55 percent said they preferred being a member of an electric cooperative – 25 percent strongly prefer it – compared to the 10 percent that prefer an investor-owned utility. Ninety-two percent of respondents also cite their electric cooperative as credible when speaking about energy issues, while state legislative officials and local chambers were noted as less credible messengers.

“Great River Energy and our 28 member cooperatives strive to regularly demonstrate the cooperative difference to end-use members by maintaining a strong connection with them and keeping open lines of communication,” LaCanne said. “Knowing that a majority are satisfied with their service and view us credible messengers for energy issues lets us know we’re on the right track.”