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Protecting Residential

Utility Customers:
Summary of 2015 AARP
Survey of Vermont
Voters
Report Prepared by
Cassandra Burton

July 20, 2015

Copyright 2015
AARP
AARP Research
601 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20049

www.aarp.org/research/
Reprinting with Permission

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP


Survey of Vermont Voters
The Vermont Addison Natural Gas Project was projected to be a 41-mile pipeline extension from Colchester south
to Middlebury financed through a rate increase to Vermont Gas Systems customers. The cost for the first phase
has increased from $86 million to $154 million due to cost overruns. Phase II of the project would have expanded
the pipeline from Middlebury southwest to Ticonderoga, New York. Due to cost overruns, Phase II has now been
cancelled. Only about 3,000 customers in Addison County will benefit from direct energy savings; however, rates
will increase for all 50,000 Vermont Gas Systems customers to pay for the project. AARP Vermont commissioned
this survey to gauge the opinions of Vermont registered voters age 18 and older about the pipeline project and
their opinions on utilities.

Voters do not feel elected officials are doing enough to lower utility bills or consider residents
when rate increases are proposed.
Vermont registered voters are concerned about the rising cost of electricity and natural gas. In fact, when
asked, more than eight in ten registered voters 18-plus in Vermont report that an increase in their household
utility bill would be a major (40%) or a minor (45%) problem for them, and most customers (92% electricity and
72% natural gas customers) who report their utility costs have increased this year are concerned about future
increases. Moreover, many voters do not think elected officials are doing enough to lower utility costs and do
not feel represented when utility rate increases are proposed.
State Doing Enough to Lower Utility Costs?

Represented When Rate Increases Proposed?


(n=800)

Natural gas
(n=209)

Electricity
(n=800)

29%

No

48%

46%

40%

Yes

41%

28%

No

Yes

No

Yes

Voters would support a candidate who ensures that the Vermont Public Service Department is
advocating for affordable utility rates.
Less than half of respondents agree that the performance measures tested in the survey were reflective of the
Vermont Public Service Departments (VPSD) work to protect utility customers. While some do not know how
well the Department is currently doing in these efforts, most voters appear to believe this is an important role
for the state to play: Two-thirds report they would be more likely to support a candidate who committed to
ensuring that the Vermont Public Service Department advocates for affordable residential utility rates.
Agreement with Statements About VPSD
(n=800)

Influence on Support if a Candidate Commits to


Ensuring VPSD Advocates for Affordable Rates
(n=800)

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

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Agree
Ensuring stronger regulations are in place
so utility companies are fair to consumers
Ensuring utilities are telling the public why
increases are needed
Ensuring utilities are held accountable for
cost overruns passed down to consumers
Representing consumer interests when
rates are proposed
Ensuring cost estimates submitted by the
utilities are independently reviewed

48%
46%
40%

Less likely. 3%
More likely. 66%. 67%
No difference. 30%

40%
36%

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

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Voters have not been well-informed about the Addison Natural Gas Project.
The Addison Natural Gas Project would expand the access to natural gas along the western side of Vermont.
When registered voters are asked how familiar they are with the project, there is an even split in awareness,
with half reporting they are very or somewhat familiar, and half saying they are not too or not at all familiar with
the project. More importantly, voters are not informed about how the project is funded. Most incorrectly think
company profits are being used, at least in part, to fund the project. Only seven percent of respondents expect
the project would be funded by consumer rates alone. More than one-third of voters are unsure all together.
Voter Familiarity with the Addison
Natural Gas Project
(n=800)

Somewhat familiar
40%

Very familiar
10%
Not at all familiar
29%

Not too familiar


21%

Voters Perceptions of How the Addison Natural


Gas Project Is Being Funded
(n=566 voters who are familiar with the Addison Natural
Gas Project)
Funding sources

100% consumer rates

7%

100% company profits

3%

100% government subsidies

1%

50% consumer rates/ 50% company


profits
50% government subsidies/ 50% company
profits
50% government subsidies/ 50%
consumer rates
Customers, company profits and
government subsidies
Not sure

18%
9%
21%
5%
35%

Voters want greater consumer protections, financial transparency and accountability by the
Vermont Public Service Department and Vermont Gas Systems.
One-half of registered voters in Vermont oppose the Vermont Public Service Departments decision for
Vermont Gas System to continue Phase I of the Addison Natural Gas Project despite substantial cost overruns
of millions of dollars. More than eight in ten (84%) respondents think that the company should pay for the
overruns due to their own underestimation of the project cost. Furthermore, with only 3,000 Vermont Gas
Systems customers benefiting from the pipeline, most respondents do not believe all 50,000 customers should
receive rate increases.
Support and Opposition of VPSDs Decision to
Allow Project Continuation
(n=800)

Whether All Vermont Gas Customers Should


Pay for the Pipeline
(n=566 voters who are familiar with the Addison
Natural Gas Project)

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

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Strongly/Somewhat support

Neither support nor oppose

Strongly/Somewhat oppose

27%

Not sure/ Refused


6%
No
80%
80%

13%

Yes
14%

51%

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

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Vermont voters agree greater levels of transparency and accountability by both the Vermont Public
Service Board and Vermont Gas Systems are necessary.
In January 2014, Vermont Gas Systems received notification that the Addison Natural Gas Project costs would
be significantly higher than the amount that was initially approved by the Vermont Public Service Board.
Vermont Gas Systems did not make this disclosure to the Vermont Public Service Board until July 2014.
Despite the disclosure, Vermont Gas was still able to proceed with the project. Nine in ten survey respondents
agree that Vermont Gas should have disclosed the cost overruns as soon as they were aware of them (94%),
that consumers should have been made aware of the issues with the project (94%), and that there should be
financial transparency regarding construction cost for such projects (88%).
Vermont Gas Should Have
Disclosed Cost Overruns as
Soon as They Were Discovered

Customers Should Be Made Aware


of Issues with the Pipeline Project
(n=800)

There Should Be Financial


Transparency Regarding
Construction Costs

(n=800)

Agree 95%

(n=800)

Neither 2% 2%

Agree 94%

Neither 3% 3%

Neither 2% 2%

Disagree
2%

Disagree
2%

Not sure 1%

Not sure 2%

Disagree
5%

Agree 89%

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

Not sure 3%

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Respondent Demographics
Vermont Registered Voters Age 18 And Older)
(n= 800 )

7%

AGE

5%
0%

18-35

14%
23%
28%32%
18%22%
23%
35%
20%

36-49
50-64
65+

20%

GENDER

21%

Male
Female

33%
26%

MARITAL STATUS

47%

Married/Living w Partner

53%

Sep/Div/Widowed

71%

Never married

14%

INCOME

13%

Less than $30k

15%

$30k - <$75k

36%

$75k+

33%
20%

0%

60%
40%

100%
80%

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

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40%

Methodology
The AARP 2015 Vermont Utility Survey was conducted as a telephone survey among registered voters age 18
or older in the state of Vermont. The survey collected the opinions of Vermont registered voters on issues
related to utility bills, the effectiveness of government regulation of utilities, and the Addison Natural Gas
Project. The survey was approximately 15 minutes in length. The interviews were conducted in English by
Precision Opinion from May 30th to June 9th, 2015. The sample utilized a voter list. The margin of sampling
error for the sample of 800 for Vermont is +/-3.5%.
Questionnaire Development and Testing
The questionnaire was developed by AARP staff. In order to improve the quality of the data, the questionnaire
was pretested with a small number of respondents. The pretest interviews were monitored by Precision
Opinion and conducted using experienced interviewers who could best judge the quality of the answers given
and the degree to which respondents understood the questions. Further, Precision Opinion ran a simulated
data set and conducted a full review of said data prior to commencing field work.
Contact Procedures
Precision Opinion asked to speak with the registered voter listed on file. If that person was unavailable,
Precision Opinion asked to speak with another registered voter in the household aged 18-plus.
Weighting
The sample was weighted by age within gender to reflect the population of registered voters in the state of
Vermont age 18-plus.
Response Rate/Cooperation Rate/Refusal Rate
The response rate for this study was measured using AAPORs response rate 3 method. The cooperation rate
was measured using AAPORs cooperation rate 3 method. The refusal rate was measured using AAPORs
refusal rate 3 method. The table below contains these rates.

Response Rate
15%

Cooperation Rate
88%

Refusal Rate
4%

Source: AAPOR Outcome Rate Calculator Version 2.1 May 2003

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

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AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of nearly 38 million, that helps people turn
their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most
to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and
protection from financial abuse. We advocate for individuals in the marketplace by selecting products and
services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a
wide range of products, travel, and services. A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational
information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world's largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin;
www.aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP en Espaol, a Spanish-language website addressing
the interests and needs of Hispanics. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions
to political campaigns or candidates. The AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security,
protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and
sponsors. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin
Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.
State Research brings the right knowledge at the right time to our state and national partners in support of their
efforts to improve the lives of people age 50+. State Research consultants provide strategic insights and
actionable research to attain measurable state and national outcomes. The views expressed herein are for
information, debate, and discussion, and do not necessarily represent official policies of AARP.
.
AARP staff from the Vermont State Office, Campaigns, State Advocacy and Strategy Integration, and State
Research contributed to the design, implementation and reporting of this study. Special thanks go to AARP staff,
including Philene Taormina and Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont; Reshma Mehta, Campaigns; William Malcolm,
John Coffman and Gerri Madrid-Davis, State Advocacy and Strategy Integration; Kate Bridges, Terri Guengerich,
Cheryl Barnes, and Rachelle Cummins, State Research. Please contact Cassandra Burton at 202-434-3547 for
more information regarding this survey. The survey will be available at www.aarp.org/research.

AARP Research
For more information about this survey, please contact Cassandra Burton at:
202.434.3547 or ccantave@aarp.org

Protecting Residential Utility Customers: Summary of 2015 AARP Survey of Vermont Voters

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