FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Utilities, Producers Take the Heat in OC
New Poll Finds Limited Local Concern about Blackouts and Many
Willing to Let Utilities Go Bankrupt
IRVINE, CA - Residents in Orange County and
San Diego hold highly negative views of the electric utilities
and energy producers, but remain calm about potential blackouts,
according to a new independent poll released Thursday.
The survey, which was conducted between January
14th and 23rd, finds more than 4 in 10 in Orange County holding
an unfavorable view of Southern California Edison and more
than 6 in 10 San Diegans holding an unfavorable view of their
primary utility, San Diego Gas and Electric. Among South Orange
County residents, some of whom are SDG&E customers, 48
percent have unfavorable view of SDG&E versus just 33
percent who hold a favorable view.
When asked who was to blame for the energy crisis,
a plurality of San Diegans said energy producers (25 percent)
followed by the utilities (21 percent). In Orange County,
producers ranked second behind the utilities (23 percent).
In both counties, the State Legislature and the State Public
Utilities Commission - which was viewed unfavorably by nearly
half of those surveyed - were listed third and fourth, respectively,
as potential culprits for the crisis. Only small percentages
assign blame to Governor Gray Davis or to local residents.
Blackouts Drawing Few Worries - For Now
While the public reveals anger at the utilities
and producers, the survey finds relatively low concern about
the energy shortage. When
asked whether they were personally worried about a potential
blackout in their area, just 1 in 4 in Orange County say they
are "very" or "extremely" worried, with
approximately two-thirds saying they are only "somewhat",
"not too" or "not at all" worried. In
San Diego County, concern is slightly higher - 35 percent
say they are "extremely" or "somewhat"
worried about potential outages.
"In spite of the daily warnings, neither
Orange County nor San Diego sees a potential blackout as something
tantamount to a disaster," said Dr. Christian Collet,
senior partner of Pacific Opinions, the research group that
directed the poll. "For now, the public is taking the
situation in stride."
The survey indicates that Latinos in Orange
County are nearly twice as likely to say they are "extremely
worried" about blackouts in their area (18% versus 9%
for the county as a whole).
Public Takes Utility Debt Problem Seriously,
But 1 in 3 Willing to Let Them Go Bankrupt
Most polled say the debt problems facing the
utilities are indeed a serious problem, but a surprising number
say they are willing to let them go bankrupt rather than issuing
state bonds to keep them solvent. Sixty percent in Orange
County and 55 percent in San Diego County say the utilities'
financial situation is an "extremely" or "very"
serious problem. Roughly one in five in both counties say
the problem is "somewhat" serious.
But when given a choice between selling state
bonds to pay off the debt and letting the utilities go bankrupt,
the public was more divided. While pluralities in San Diego
(49 percent) and Orange County (44 percent) say they would
prefer to see the state sell bonds to help the utilities pay
off their debt, 1 in 3 in both counties say they would be
willing to let the utilities go bankrupt. Opinion remains
unsettled on this issue, as 25 percent in Orange County and
16 percent in San Diego say they would choose neither option.
Compared to Latinos and other ethnic groups,
most of whom support a bond bailout, Anglos are more likely
to let the utilities go bankrupt. In Orange County, 43 percent
of Anglos say they would support bailing out the utilities'
debt with bonds, compared to 36 percent willing to let them
go bankrupt. In San Diego, the percentage of Anglos willing
to let the utilities expire rises to 39 percent, only 4 percentage
points fewer than those willing to bail the utilities out
(43 percent). This is within the statistical margin of error
for the San Diego sample of 511 respondents.
Further analysis of the data shows that those
who are most willing to let the utilities go bankrupt are
least concerned about the utilities financial situation.
"Though the public, on the whole, says
they are taking the utilities' debt seriously, many are skeptical,"
Collet said. "What the numbers tell us is that the utilities
have yet to fully convince ratepayers - and taxpayers - that
the problem is so severe as to require their contribution.
For some in the area, the attitude toward the utilities and
the state is this: 'If this is really a problem, it's yours
State Built Power Plants, Alternative Energy
Seen as Most Effective
The poll also asked Orange County and San Diego
County for their views on six possible solutions for the energy
crisis - and which ones they felt would make the biggest impact
on solving the crisis. Among the most popular in both counties
are the sale of state bonds to buy new power plants (69% in
OC say it would make a "big" or "some"
difference, 78% in SD) and the development of alternative
energy sources (66% in OC, 73% in SD).
The ideas that the public believes will have
less impact are: raising utility rates for consumers (53%
in OC, 51% in SD) and having the state assume full control
over the utilities. In Orange County, 62 percent say a complete
state takeover the utilities would make a "big"
or "some" difference in solving the crisis. In San
Diego County, 54 percent say a state takeover would make a
"big" or "some" difference.
Collet said, "Rather than clamoring for
re-regulation or a quick-fix, what the public is telling us
is that it wants a serious consideration of long-term solutions
Davis Remains Popular, Peace Draws Fire in
In spite of recent speculation about his handling
of the crisis, Governor Davis remains popular in Orange County
and San Diego. In both counties, he holds a nearly 2 to 1
favorable-to-unfavorable rating. Fewer than 1 in 10 say he
is the person most responsible for the energy problems.
In San Diego County, however, State Senator
Steve Peace - the so-called architect of utility deregulation
- is drawing severe criticism. Of the 51 percent in the survey
who were able to identify the Senator, 45 percent held an
unfavorable view of him. Just 33 percent hold a favorable
view of him while more than 1 in 5 say they have no opinion.
Not Just a Pocketbook Issue
Though the study finds nearly half of San Diego
residents paying more than $100 per month for their electricity
(compared to 1 in 4 in Orange County), further analysis finds
little relationship between the amount of electricity bills
and resident attitudes toward the utilities - or the energy
"This is an indication that the issue is
something more than simple pocketbook anger over utility bills,"
Collet said. "The public sees it as an issue of fairness
About the Poll and Pacific Opinions
The poll, based on a randomly selected sample
of 1,050 registered voters in Orange and San Diego Counties,
was conducted by telephone between January 14th and 23rd,
2001. Interviews were administered in English and Spanish.
A special over-sample of 503 Latinos was included in the poll.
The margin of sampling error is approximately +/-3 percentage
points for the entire sample; for county and ethnic subgroups,
the error is approximately +/- 4 percentage points. It is
important to recognize that sampling error is only one source
of potential error in opinion surveys, and that other factors,
such as question wording and order, may affect the results.
Pacific Opinions is an independent research
group based in Irvine, California. The Pacific Poll is a public-interest
opinion survey conducted regularly on social and political
issues in the Orange County and San Diego area.