Green Communities Center

Energy Survey 2007

In August 2007 the APA/EESI partnership launched a second national survey, this time to assess the integration of climate change and energy issues into community planning.

We received 1,103 responses, from public sector planners (59 percent), private sector planners (28.3 percent), planning academics (2.8 percent), planners working for nonprofits (4.1 percent), and planners working in other planning areas (5.8 percent). This split is roughly similar to the 2005 survey, but the number of responses increased 293 percent from the 2005 survey (377 responses).

The 2007 survey included numerous questions that were asked in the 2005 survey, to see if there were any changes in the planning community over the last two years, and it also included new questions regarding climate change policies and plans, and general attitudes on the topic.

See the questions that were asked (pdf)

The following are 10 "big picture" points gleaned from comparing the 2005 to the 2007 survey results.

  • Awareness of energy issues is increasing among planners. A full 98 percent of planners surveyed believe that energy issues are connected to planning, up from 91 percent in 2005. Across the board, more planners now feel that energy issues are "very connected" to a number of planning issues, including transportation, quality of life, economic development, and public health. As planners continue to make connections between energy use and other planning issues, their ability to address energy issues expands accordingly.
  • Planners are more likely to have primary responsibility in their jurisdictions for developing energy plans and policies. In 2005, only 19 percent of planners surveyed said their department had jurisdiction over energy concerns; today 32 percent identify the planning department as having this responsibility. The opportunity for planners to impact energy issues in their community continues to grow.
  • The number of communities with energy policy statements or plans is poised to grow.  While the percentage of planners surveyed reporting existing energy policies or plans stayed the same at about one-quarter, the number of communities with policies in development has grown by 10 percent since 2005. With public awareness of energy and climate change issues on the rise, this recent surge of communities beginning the process of addressing energy issues could represent the leading edge of a growing trend.
  • Climate change has become the top motivator for communities to address energy concerns, and citizen interest continues to be a major factor. Among planners surveyed, 63 percent cited climate change concerns as a community motivator for developing an energy policy, up from 25 percent in 2005. High utility bills were only cited by 28 percent of planners in 2007, down from 85 percent in 2005. Citizen interest remained the second most-cited motivating factor, at 58 percent in 2007. Planners should be aware that there could be considerable popular support for addressing energy issues in their community, and that people are making the connection between the global warming crisis and their day-to-day lives.
  • The biggest obstacles to moving forward on energy planning actions continue to be a lack of political interest and the complexity of the issue. Planners most often cited a lack of political interest (28 percent) and the complexity of energy issues (19 percent) when asked to describe their city's energy planning status. These numbers are practically unchanged from 2005 survey results. The importance of citizen interest as noted above, however, suggests that popular support for energy issues does exist, which provides an opportunity for planners to bring this issue to the table. By taking advantage of popular concern about energy issues and becoming better educated about energy planning concerns, planners can work to advance an energy agenda in their community.
  • Reducing demand through energy efficiency is the most common tool that communities plan to use in addressing energy issues. A full 86 percent of planners whose communities have energy policies indicated that reducing energy demand is a key component. Renewable energy purchasing was cited by 65 percent, and reducing peak demand was noted by 43 percent (up 19 percent from 2005). Increasing energy efficiency may be this popular for a number of reasons — it is an easy concept to understand, it is to some extent easier to affect though business practices and purchasing decisions than other policies, and there is a growing list of energy-efficient products and services available to help communities address this issue. And while turning off lights and buying energy-efficient appliances are popular way to save energy, larger issues such as land-use planning and transportation infrastructure can have a major impact on a community's energy demands.  Planners should note that calling for improved energy efficiency is a common way for policy-makers to address energy issues, and should be prepared to show the impacts that good planning on all scales can have on energy use — from energy-efficiency standards to land use and transportation planning.
  • Planners know more about alternative energy topics and technologies than they did in 2005, but additional education is needed. Over a quarter of planners surveyed considered themselves "very familiar" with topics such as passive solar, biomass, cogeneration, fuel cells, anaerobic digestion, and distributed generation, but most are not as clear on other technologies such as photovoltaics, wind, transportation biofuels, and geothermal energy. In addition, only a quarter of planners surveyed were familiar with the APA's adopted policy guide on energy. This reveals a need to provide educational materials on these topics to planners. Planners will greatly benefit from an increased availability of educational materials and training opportunities on energy-related topics.
  • A growing number of communities are seeking out energy technology businesses as part of their economic development strategy. Over a quarter of planners surveyed in 2007 reported economic development plans that encourage energy technology businesses, up from 12 percent in 2005. As energy issues increasingly make their way onto national and local agendas, the market has responded with an increase in "green-collar" jobs and growth in the alternative energy technology industry. This represents an economic development opportunity for those communities that encourage such businesses. Planners should be aware of the growing economic development potential of the alternative energy industry, and work to support its growth both through developing local energy policies and standards and through economic development incentives.   
  • Most communities have not yet integrated energy concerns into their zoning ordinances and development review procedures. While 40 percent of planners surveyed said their communities had or were working on energy policy statements, over 80 percent said their community's zoning ordinance did not address issues such as wind farms, green roofs, solar easements, or distributed generation energy systems. Few planners reported applying any sort of energy demand standard to site plan review regulations, and only 28 percent said their community had energy efficiency guidelines for housing developments. Planners should spearhead efforts to begin to address energy issues in their communities through local policies and regulations, beginning with energy policies and plans and following through with ordinance and code amendments.
  •  Most communities do not yet offer incentives for energy efficient, green development, and most planners are not familiar with private market incentives for green building. Only 7 percent of planners surveyed reported density bonuses being used to encourage energy elements in new development, while 19 percent reported other incentives to encourage green building. Nearly three-quarters of planners surveyed did not know if other incentives, such as energy- or location-efficient mortgages, were available in their communities. These results are very similar to those of 2005. The use of various financial and regulatory incentives to encourage energy-efficient development is still very underutilized; planners should work to add such incentives to local codes and educate themselves about synergistic private-market approaches.