Under contract with PG&E, the Joint Utilities of California engaged Opinion Dynamics in a data gathering project across 179 disadvantaged communities (DAC) in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV). The project is a result of California Assembly Bill 2672, which seeks to increase access to affordable energy sources, reduce reliance on alternative fuels such as propane, wood, and diesel generators, and improve health, safety, and air quality in the SJV. The baseline data will inform an economic feasibility study of various interventions intended to reduce energy costs and mitigate the use of alternative fuels. The project involves compiling data from numerous primary and secondary data sources regarding energy sources used, reasons for use of alternative fuels, energy costs, energy burden, and household conditions.

Primary data collection with customers in DACs is challenging. In these communities as there is a lack of trust with their utility and other government entities. Additional obstacles to customer participation include language and technology barriers. Opinion Dynamics worked with Self-Help Enterprises (SHE) and other community-based organizations in SJV to assist with community outreach and support.

Community outreach for this study included door-to-door canvassing, participating in community meetings or events, and providing schools and other community organizations with information and fliers. While designing data collection and outreach materials, we were careful to keep them easy to understand and ensured the online versions were easy to navigate. Opinion Dynamics gathered input from SHE to create materials that residents could understand and relate to. In addition, all data collection instruments were offered in English and Spanish, and customers could take the quantitative survey online or over the telephone.

A second challenge for this study was the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred in the midst of data collection. As a result, we paused the data collection and adjusted the survey instruments and data collection strategies. First, due to the long-term focus of the study, we modified the survey instruments to focus respondents on how they typically use energy in their homes versus their current situation during the pandemic when they are spending more time at home. We also prepared and tested the use of virtual site visits in place of in-home audits to keep the project on schedule. We made virtual options available for both the in-home audits and in-person interviews to ensure customers were comfortable with participating in further data collection.

The information gathered through this study seeks to increase access to affordable energy in disadvantaged communities (DACs) in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV). This study commenced in September 2019 and final results will be delivered in June of 2021. Opinion Dynamics is currently analyzing all data from primary data collection activities, utility supporting data, and secondary data sources. At the conclusion of this Data Gathering Project, the results from this study will directly support the economic feasibility study and the next phase of the SJV DAC ruling.