Keeping up with the polls…


Graphic from Yale Project on Climate Change Communications.

We’ve pointed it out here before, but it bears saying again: Americans love renewable energy. There’s just no ifs, ands or buts about it.

The map above from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications, which breaks down support for renewable energy at the county level, shows clearly that a majority of Americans in every county in the U.S. support funding for renewable energy. Well, perhaps except for one lone county in southeast Texas–the heart of oil refining country.

And in most places, it’s not just mere majority support, it’s landslide-level support for renewable energy.

So why is it so hard to get production tax credits–a proven mechanism for renewable energy development–renewed through Congress every time they expire? And why does Congress even continue to force them to expire every couple of years, setting up new battles over their continuation? After all, the similar nuclear production tax credits–which have largely failed in their goal of stimulating new reactor construction–were made for twenty years.

The answer may lie in some of the other conflicting measures of public opinion shown on this page (another excellent piece from David Roberts), when renewable energy support is put in the larger context of climate change.

The climate deniers–i.e. the fossil fuel and nuclear industries–have certainly made their case to the American people, or at least confused the issue enough so that people who don’t follow the issue aren’t sure what to think.

Of course, there is no real reason renewable energy has to be placed in the context of climate–renewables make sense in every way, including reliability and cost, the two areas that in the past were problem areas. Now renewables have surpassed nuclear on both, and soon will surpass coal and gas on both as well. At least if you recognize that reliability and “baseload” are two different things, and that one distribution system works to ensure reliable electricity from renewables while an entirely different one works to facilitate baseload power from nuclear power and fossil fuels. Both provide electricity 24/7–which is all ratepayers care about; but one–the system based on renewables–provides that power cleaner, safer, and increasingly cheaper than the baseload system of the 20th century.

Another reason public support for renewables doesn’t necessarily translate into policy support for them may be that while politicians (or at least their campaign managers) may be proficient at reading candidate polls, they’re not as good at reading issue polls, nor at tying together the findings of disparate polls to understand what Americans are really thinking.

So let’s try to tie those loose ends together…..

Here’s another poll from last week, from the University of Michigan.  It found that renewables are not just popular in the abstract. In fact, fully 74% of Americans support state Renewable Energy Standards–the kind groups like the Koch Brothers and ALEC have been attacking, with little success, across the country. Perhaps it’s now obvious why they’ve achieved little success. State-level politicians are perhaps more attuned to public opinion in their smaller jurisdictions than federal politicians.

A majority of Americans would be willing to spend $25 more per year for renewable energy, according to the poll. $50/year might be too much, however. Of course, it’s no longer a question of spending more for renewables–they’re the ones that have become cheaper. In Illinois, Exelon wants ratepayers to spend $24/year to bail out its uneconomic nuclear reactors, which can’t compete with cheaper renewables. We’ve yet to see the poll that shows Americans anywhere are willing to spend more to support nuclear power.

Which leads us to another new poll, this one from Morning Consult, which has been polling on nuclear issues recently, presumably at the request and financing of someone in industry.

Their latest poll, released Friday, finds that Americans really, really do not like radioactive waste.

Indeed 63% of Americans would refuse to live within 100 miles of a radioactive waste site; unsurprisingly, 77% would refuse to live within 10 miles of one.

An identical 63% of Americans would punish any politician who proposed building a radioactive waste site within their state. Nevadans, by the way, feel the same way–perhaps even stronger–as the rest of America on that one. Probably even Texans.

Since our elected Congressmembers appear incapable of tying together these threads (or, to be kinder, maybe they just don’t see all these polls), we’re happy to do that for them:

Americans love clean, safe renewable energy and are willing to pay more for it just to see it succeed–even though they no longer actually have to pay more. Americans hate radioactive waste. Radioactive waste is an inherent product of nuclear generation, no way around that. Extrapolation: Americans aren’t really that crazy about nuclear power, and they are unlikely to be willing to pay more for it–even though now they have to.

Conclusion: Congressmembers should avoid voter punishment over radioactive waste by legislating an end to its generation. And they should endear themselves to voters by doing everything they possibly can–from supporting permanent production tax credits for renewables to establishing a national Renewable Energy Standard–as fast as they can.

Finally, a note to Americans: it’s important not only to support renewable energy and oppose nuclear waste (and, really, all things nuclear) in public opinion polls, it’s vital to do it in the poll where it really counts: the one in the voting booth. After all, if Congressmembers can ignore what you think without consequences, then public opinion doesn’t matter at all.

Michael Mariotte

June 8, 2015


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