Climate Spotlight: Taking on our home energy footprint

Lorrie Kaplan shows off her electric heat pump water heater. Lorrie and her husband converted their home to 100% electric in 2021 and had Avista come remove all gas lines from their property. Bob Kaplan photo
July 1, 2022

Ashland residents share their views

By Lorrie Kaplan

In 2021, the Southern Oregon University Office of Sustainability and the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now partnered to produce “Community Climate Connect.”

The survey was designed to gather residents’ views on topics related to household energy, as one of the top direct sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our community, and a high-priority climate solution identified in Ashland’s 2017 Climate & Energy Action Plan (CEAP) in 2017. The CEAP lays out a goal that Ashland reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 8%, on average, per year.

We promoted the survey in the Ashland edition of the Sneak Preview, as well as on social media and community listservs. Our pitch was: “The City of Ashland is exploring how best to reduce the climate impact of our home energy use. But first, the City should hear from you!”

The survey had several sections:

  • Coping with smoke and heat
  • Energy efficiency measures. Using energy efficiently in our buildings can reduce energy use, save money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Efficiency strategies can be as minor as adjusting your thermostat or using LED light bulbs and unplugging devices, as well as larger-scale improvements such as improving insulation and installing energy-efficient windows. Residents were asked what measures they have implemented or would like to implement, and why or why not.
  • Solar Energy. Local solar energy generation reduces greenhouse gas emissions. When coupled with energy storage (batteries), local solar can also increase our resilience if our power grid goes down. We asked respondents to share their views on and knowledge of solar energy.
  • Gas vs. electric. Many Ashland homes use “natural” gas for home heating, water heating, cooking, fireplaces, and more. We asked respondents to share their opinions about “natural” gas. This section is of particular interest for policy makers, since the use of “natural” gas (methane) in our buildings is a major source of our direct greenhouse gas emissions. The most recent CEAP progress report from our city Climate Analyst Stu Green (May 2021) noted we’re falling behind in meeting our climate goals, mostly because we continue to install new gas hookups in town. If “natural” gas use keeps increasing, we’ll never achieve our climate goals, despite good intentions and real concerns.
  • Attitudes about climate change and climate policies, willingness to take personal action, and demographics.

The online survey used Survey Monkey and was open from Nov. 18 to Dec. 31, 2021, and 299 Ashland residents and employees completed it. They took time to share their opinions, answering multiple choice questions and also, in many cases, providing lengthy comments. That’s an outstanding response, and we’re grateful to everyone who participated. We think of these survey results as a kind of town hall or community listening session.

Key findings

Full results of the survey, slide presentations, and full text of comments from residents can be found here. Key findings include:

  • Nearly 90% of respondents describe themselves as either “alarmed”or “very concerned” about climate change.
  • Respondents support energy measures but are concerned about affordability and equity.
  • 64% have smoke coming into their homes. While most have found a solution, 11% have not.
  • Increasing public awareness of available incentives and expertise to assist in making choices would help residents adopt efficiency measures. 68% of respondents want more information about city incentive programs and more than half also want information about energy efficiency and solar energy options. Respondents have a high interest in obtaining a home energy audit and installing more efficient HVAC and water heating systems.
  • A desire to reduce household greenhouse gas emissions is the primary motivation for implementing energy measures. Cost is perceived as the primary barrier.
  • Homeowners have adopted more energy efficiency measures than renters, but renters are very interested in doing so. However, more than 40% of renter respondents meet the definition of “rent burdened.”
  • Approximately three-quarters of respondents are interested in obtaining their energy from solar, but 62% of respondents are not familiar with the city’s virtual net metering policy. Virtual net metering allows Ashland Electric customers to benefit from solar power not generated on their own property and is particularly useful for renters or heavily shaded properties.
  • Respondents generally express positive views about electric appliances vs gas; 40-50% are willing to switch from gas to electric when their equipment reaches end of life. This would make a huge difference to Ashland’s climate footprint.
  • On the other hand, 19% say they would not consider switching from gas to electric for cooking. Many residents described themselves as not familiar with induction cooktops, which are 100% electric but perform as well as high-quality gas cooktops — and far better than the electric cooktops we used in the old days. A recent Stanford University study found that gas cooktops contribute to poor indoor air quality, and that they are leaking far more methane and other pollutants than previously understood, even when they are not in use.
  • 60% of respondents support a moratorium on new “natural” gas hookups while 53% support a requirement that all new appliances be electric rather than gas. Only 31% support a requirement that gas systems be replaced with electric by a certain date. More than 50 communities in the U.S. have enacted moratoria banning new “natural” gas hookups.

Again, thank you to everyone who worked with us to make this survey possible – our SOU student intern Sarah Ross, our many reviewers, and the many Ashland residents and employees who took the time to share their views.

Lorrie Kaplan served until recently as chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. She now serves as president of the Ashland Climate Collaborative. She also is unpaid board member of Ashland.news and curates the Climate Spotlight column. Send comments on what you read in this column, or your ideas for future columns to lorrie@ashlandclimate.org.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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