University of Regina survey shows strong public support for city’s renewable energy goals

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Survey shows support for renewable energy in Regina
Survey shows support for renewable energy in Regina – Sep 24, 2020

Results of a University of Regina survey suggests there is broad support from residents to achieve the city’s goal of being 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy by 2050.

The Regina Energy Futures Survey is part of a larger report completed by the university. Brett Dolter, an assistant professor of economics, recently released the findings before presenting them to the City of Regina Planning and Priorities Committee on Wednesday.

“We live in a world where there’s a lot of polarization. It seems there’s always a different opinion on an energy future. So my interest is to see, can we actually get people to agree?” Dolter said.

The survey was administered by Prairie Research Associate randomly to 451 Regina residents through landline and cellphone calls in August and September of 2019. The margin of error is +/- 5 per cent.

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It found 74 per cent supported the City of Regina powering its buildings and vehicles with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, with less than 10 per cent opposing that.

Read more: Solar industry rallies in Regina against SaskPower announcement

Additionally, 64 per cent supported the broader goal of ensuring the entire city – including private buildings and vehicles – are powered with alternative means within 30 years. Less than 15 per cent opposed that goal.

“It didn’t matter what the political affiliation was or demographics, there was majority support in every demographic that we saw,” Dolter said.

The survey found 68.4 per cent of respondents accept that climate change is caused mainly by human activity, and those who recognize the urgency of the issue has the strongest support for the city achieving its target.

To help with that transition, 39 per cent said they were willing to pay more on their property taxes, and another 25 per cent said they would consider paying an additional charge – depending on the amount.

“In general, on average across the whole sample, people willing to pay up to $32 a month,” he said.

Dolter added that solar energy was a hot topic for those surveyed, with about half of those surveyed living in homes where panels could be installed. Of those, 75 per cent said they would be willing to install if they broke even or made a financial return.

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Catlin Schneider with Prairie Sun Solar in Regina says business has transitioned from mostly residential, to mostly commercial, due to the cost of installation repayments. Daniella Ponticelli / Global News

Catlin Schneider, an engineering consultant with Prairie Sun Solar in Regina, said installation repayments are the most common deterrent for interested homeowners.

“The biggest hiccup is the financing. You know, people wandering, ‘am I going to be here in this house long enough to see the payback?,” Schneider said.

The consultant said financing programs — such as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans — would allow the installation to be repaid through property tax payments.

“So if you do happen to move, that is actually part of that piece of land,” he said.

“We used to do about 95 per cent of residential, smaller-home projects. Now we’re doing 90 per cent large commercial-sized projects because it still makes sense from a business standpoint.”

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According to the U of R survey, residents would be more likely to install solar with a PACE loan, which would need to be administered through the city.

Read more: Solar project seeks to replace abandoned oil wells in rural Alberta

“If we can get solar on up to half of the households in Regina, we could have energy equivalent to about 3,700 gigawatt hours, which is more than the City of Regina needs for all its operations,” Dolter said.

“It’s about 15 per cent of all the electricity in the city. So it’s still not everything, we would still need to look at other sources of [renewable] energy.”

In July 2020, the Saskatchewan government made changes to the Municipalities Act that allows the City of Regina, for example, to create financing programs.

“Through agreement with a property owner, a municipality can now provide monetary assistance for green energy improvements. A municipality can recover the amount granted by adding the cost to the property owner’s taxes over an agreed upon period of time,” according to the Ministry of Government Relations.

On Thursday, Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said the findings of the survey and report were good news, and not surprising given that people are looking for leadership in that regard.

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Read more: Shell to cut up to 40% from oil and gas production to prepare for energy transition

While the report includes several “politically-acceptable actions and policies the City of Regina could put in place,” Fougere noted consultation with the general public is needed first and foremost.

“The discussion [Wednesday] by some members of council was to ensure we have a public understanding of what is coming down here – plus the cost if it as well. This could hit the pocketbook quite hard,” he said.

Fougere added that it’s still way too early to determine which financial programs, if any, the city will commit to until further evaluation is complete.

The Regina Energy Futures Report, which also reviewed the commuting choices of city residents, is pending approval from council. A decision on that will be made sometime in October.

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