New poll: Majority of Californians want clean energy neighborhoods

A new poll released for the Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC) finds that a healthy 62% majority of California voters would support a pilot program to upgrade their neighborhoods to run on 100% clean electricity. A neighborhood-scale pilot program could upgrade entire blocks of homes and businesses at once to be fully powered by clean, renewable energy to benefit families, workers, and communities. 

The poll results bolster new legislation making its way through the CA Legislature (SB 1221 – Min) that would open the door for neighborhood-scale decarbonization pilots and ensure long-term energy affordability for Californians. Specifically, SB 1221 enables the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to establish a process so that utilities can redirect spending toward zero-emission alternatives when it is the most affordable option over gas infrastructure.

“It’s time to make smarter decisions around energy infrastructure and invest in a way that makes energy more affordable for Californians while also driving progress towards our 2045 zero carbon goals,” said bill author Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine). “SB 1221 paves the way for this transition by showing how we can move away from fossil fuels in heating and cooling our homes, driving down utility costs for consumers and building climate resilience.”

Affordability is a key issue for the majority of Californians surveyed. According to the poll, over three in five respondents said they were concerned that more than half of California’s gas pipelines are nearing the end of their useful life and require costly maintenance or replacement.

Aging gas infrastructure is a big, expensive problem. In California, it can cost over $3 million per mile to repair and replace pipelines, which are paid for by utility customers. The California Energy Commission finds that without intervention, gas bills could get as high as $600 per month by 2050 due to the high cost of gas infrastructure. 

With neighborhood-scale decarbonization, Californians can avoid covering the high cost of replacing and repairing costly gas infrastructure, which will also eventually become obsolete as the state moves toward clean energy. Instead, utilities can redirect this spending to cost-effectively upgrading homes and community buildings to run on clean electricity, all the while saving ratepayers money (one study estimates around $2,000 over 15 years). 

Jose Torres, CA Director for the BDC remarks: “The numbers tell us that the majority of California voters understand the importance of having their neighborhoods run on 100% clean electricity.  Equipping an entire neighborhood with zero-emission appliances like heat pumps can reduce pollutants inside the home and expand access to life-saving cooling. Neighborhood-scale approaches to building decarbonization can help us reach our climate and clean energy goals faster, save utility customers money, and make this a more equitable transition.”

Advocates supporting SB 1221 and a majority of poll respondents want to see California achieve a brighter future beyond gas. For example, 70% of poll respondents said they are concerned about climate change, and about two thirds (66%) see improving air quality as “extremely” or “very” important. 

Gas appliances in our homes and buildings are responsible for about 25% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, approximately 44 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of the emissions produced by nearly 10 million passenger cars on the road. These same appliances are also dangerous for indoor air quality and public health, emitting four times more nitrogen oxide pollution than the state’s gas power plants.

The results of the poll, and the momentum behind SB 1221 suggest that the state is ready to begin a process to phase costly and polluting gas out of homes and buildings. The pilots enabled by SB1221 will get Californians closer to a future where neighborhoods are powered by renewable energy.

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