Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: email@example.com
Electricity deregulation means that customers can choose clean-energy options to power their homes. But the question on the collective minds of five Northeastern states was why so few buyers picked solar, wind or hydro-electric alternatives--power sources that are better for the environment than fossil fuels.
The answer is now clear, thanks to market research done on behalf of the five states: Consumers think of renewable energy as a failed idea from the 1970s and don't realize that renewables today account for 6 percent of U.S. energy production. "Most consumers know that clean energy is better for the environment--they just don't think it works," says Brian F. Keane, the head of a Hartford-based nonprofit called SmartPower, which conducted the study for Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
To change that perception, the five states hired an advertising agency to develop a new message to show that clean energy is for real and is working right now. One radio spot, for example, notes that renewable sources already produce enough power to run every home computer in America.
Rhode Island ran the ads last spring and summer, and in the campaign's first 100 days, some 1,100 customers switched to one of four power suppliers offering renewable generation. That's a lot by industry standards. Rhode Island will run the ads again this year, and Connecticut plans to run them in March.
Market research also found that consumers, not to mention policy makers, are confused by all the words used to describe renewable energy. The Northeast states settled on the term "clean energy," which polled best with focus groups.