Abstract: Community solar is a renewable energy practice that’s been adopted by multiple U.S. states and is being considered by many more, including the state of Oregon. A recent senate bill in Oregon, called the “Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan”, includes a provision that directs the Oregon Public Utility Commission to establish a community solar program for investor-owned utilities by late 2017. Thus, energy consumers in Portland will be offered participation in community solar projects in the near future. Community solar is a mechanism that allows ratepayers to experience both the costs and benefits of solar energy while also helping to offset the proportion of fossil-fuel generated electricity in utility grids, thus aiding climate change mitigation. For community solar to achieve market success in the residential sector of Portland, ratepayers of investor-owned utilities must socially accept this energy practice. The aim of this study was to forecast the potential social acceptance of community solar among Portland residents by measuring willingness to participate in these projects. Additionally, consumer characteristics, attitudes, awareness, and knowledge were captured to assess the influence of these factors on intent to enroll in community solar. The theory of planned behavior, as well as the social acceptance, diffusion of innovation, and dual-interest theories were frameworks used to inform the analysis of community solar adoption. These research objectives were addressed through a mixed-mode survey of Portland residents, using a stratified random sample of Portland neighborhoods to acquire a gradient of demographics. 330 questionnaires were completed, yielding a 34.2% response rate. Descriptive statistics, binomial logistic regression models, and mean willingness to pay were the analyses conducted to measure the influence of project factors and demographic characteristics on likelihood of community solar participation. Roughly 60% of respondents exhibited interest in community solar enrollment. The logistic regression model revealed the percent change in utility bill (essentially the rate of return on the community solar investment) as a dramatically influential variable predicting willingness to participate. Community solar project scenarios also had a strong influence on willingness to participate: larger, cheaper, and distant projects were preferred over small and expensive local projects. Results indicate that community solar project features that accentuate affordability are most important to energy consumers. Additionally, demographic characteristics that were strongly correlated with willingness to enroll were politically liberal ideologies, higher incomes, current enrollment in green utility programs, and membership in an environmental organization. Thus, the market acceptance of community solar in Portland will potentially be broadened by emphasizing affordability over other features, such as community and locality. Additionally, I explored attitudinal influences on interest in community solar by conducting exploratory factor analysis on attitudes towards energy, climate change, and solar barriers and subsequently conducting binomial logistic regression models. Results found that perceiving renewable energy as environmentally beneficial was positively correlated with intent to enroll in community solar, which supported the notion that environmental attitudes will lead to environmental behaviors. The logistic regression model also revealed a negative correlation between community solar interest and negative attitudes towards renewable energy. Perceptions of solar barriers were mild, indicating that lack of an enabling mechanism may be the reason solar continues to be underutilized in this region.
Keywords: Climate change,Community solar,Oregon,Renewable energy, Social acceptance