It’s no secret that American voters want to see more renewable energy, and favor highly ambitious moves to transition the nation’s power supply. But in politics, the details matter.
In a new poll conducted on April 12-14, Morning Consult asked 1,998 registered voters across age, eduction and political spectrum not only broad questions, but about the specifics of renewable energy policies currently proposed, among other matters. And it this revealed a number of details about what the nation’s voters want. You can see the entire poll here, and following are our top conclusions reached from the data.
1) Voters say 100% renewable electricity by 2030 more important than other steps to fight climate change
One of the notable features of the Morning Consult report is that it asked voters about several different approaches to addressing climate change to gauge relative support for each. But while the approaches of funding innovation, setting deadlines to reach zero emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and moving to 100% renewable energy were all seen as important, they did not receive equal consideration.
Next to a rather vague proposal regarding committing to “clean energy innovation”, which took the top spot, committing to 100% renewable energy “over a 10-year period” came in #2, with roughly 2/3 of respondents declaring that this is “important” or “very important” to addressing climate change.
The wording here is noteworthy. The poll doesn’t ask whether or not voters support this idea, but rather whether it is important to addressing climate change. More on that later.
2) Support for the Green New Deal is less uniform than in previous polls
The Morning Consult poll also asked about general support for the Green New Deal, as expressed put forward by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D) in a resolution which was rejected by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate last month. Democrats mostly abstained from the vote.
Support for this measure among voters was mixed, with only 46% expressing support, versus 31% in opposition, however 23% either didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion. This reflected the nation’s political polarization, with 69% of registered Democrats expressing some degree of support and only 25% of Republicans.
This is in sharp contrast to a poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) last December, which found 81% in support of the Green New Deal as it was described by the pollsters, with support across the political spectrum.
3)… but voters know more about it (for better or worse)
The Morning Consult poll also shows a much higher knowledge of the Green New Deal as an actual policy proposal. 51% of voters in this poll from last week reported that they knew “a lot” or “some” about the Green New Deal, whereas in the YPCCC poll from December 82% of voters had never heard of it.
In that time, Republicans have had an opportunity to convince their constituents why they should oppose a measure that in principle a lot of Republicans may have thought sounded like a good idea.
However, descriptions of the Green New Deal in both polls focused on the clean energy aspects, with less attention paid to the broad array of radical social/economic programs that are included in the resolution, including an employment guarantee, a single-payer health program and an investigation into a universal basic income.
This does not mean that Republicans have developed any compelling alternative. A slimmer majority of voters reported that they support the “Green Real Deal”, an alternative proposal presented by Republican Matt Gaetz (R) focused on carbon capture and low- and zero-emissions resources. They also didn’t know as much about it.
4) Energy is not the top issue for the vast majority of voters
There are many other conclusions that could be drawn from the 324-page poll, on this and a variety of other issues. But one key piece of context for the renewable energy and Green New Deal components is that energy is not the top issue for most voters, and competes with a number of other issues.
In fact, of the seven issue areas proposed, fewer respondents ranked “Energy Issues – like carbon emissions, cost of electricity/gasoline, or renewables” as their top issue than six other issues named, at only 6%. Economic issues – taxes, wages, jobs, unemployment and spending – were again at the top, with security issues coming in a relatively close second.
This is an important distinction for the backers of the Green New Deal, which frames the move to renewable energy largely around jobs and employment. However, there is also a question as to whether or not all of the radical social and economic measures in the proposal are a complement to or detraction from the energy transition component.
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It is important to remember that we have a long collective memory. The shock of the downturn(s) at the century’s beginnings still resonate, especially when the net result of the last forty years is a vast transfer of wealth away from the Middle Class. It makes sense.
The Green New Deal is a reaction to a number of social issues, and feels like a mashup of convenience, but not one that will withstand serious scrutiny by the public at large. The discussion of an economy that makes peace more profitable than war gets a little bit deeper into possible human motivations … peace, I will suggest, is not so much “whirled peas” but rather peace in my neighborhood.
And I’m willing to bet that 99% of those voters have no idea how the power grid works. 100% renewable energy by 2030 is a pipe dream without any basis in reality. Once battery technology and other forms of energy storage are vastly improved, then we can talk about 100% renewable. Until then, to force 100% renewables via legislation is to force brown outs and black outs when the renewables are not available.
I am again reminded how much easier it is to put an opinion on the internet than it is to do actual research.
If you read any one of a number of studies around very high levels of renewable energy (hint: Google), or observe the actual progress in nations like Denmark, Costa Rica and Uruguay, you will find that we are continually upgrading our expectations of what renewables can achieve, and there a wealth of studies indicating that 100% renewable electricity is technically achievable while maintaining electric system reliability.
Cost can be another matter (again depending on the region).
As for your other claims:
Battery technology not being ready yet: baseless. Batteries are being paired with solar to create “solar peakers” to meet evening demand at less than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour in Hawaii: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/03/28/hawaiis-new-reality-of-solar-plus-storage-under-10-cents/
“Force brown outs and black outs”: What grid operator would actually allow this to happen? I think you are gravely under-estimating the controls that are actually in place in our current electric system.
Lucky if it’s 50% of urban vehicles by 2030 and 15% of commercial vehicles if you include bus and taxi.
It’s an alarming number that 2/3 of a population could be so illiterate to expect that sort of change in ten years – neither existing technology nor manufacturing logistics is anywhere near capable
There is an interesting correlation that I’m seeing between comments that denigrate the intelligence of others and themselves are unsupported by evidence.
Per your claim that technology is not anywhere near capable, please see both the wealth of 100% renewable electricity studies as well as the actual experiences in Costa Rica, Uruguay and Denmark, and the rise of solar + storage “peakers”.
As for manufacturing logistics and scaling, I encourage you to read more about what has been happening in China over the last few decades.
Also your projection on vehicles is backwards; fleets are already moving en masse to electrification, and single-occupancy vehicles are the ones that will lag. But overall this comment will age no better than others that were made before the rise of personal automobiles, cell phones, digital cameras, and other disruptive technology.
Thank you to both Bill and Christian excellent points!
There are a couple of things I would like to add the first being how long will the environmentalist allow the utilities to install gigantic solar powered farms without adequate study of the snail darter or some other kind of endangered species? Just because these installations create carbon free power does not mean that they get a pass when they are indeed disturbing the habitats Of many endangered species. Another point is the vast amount of solar that we will need in the next 25 years in order to run all the cars and trucks that will be using electricity as their main form of energy. I doubt we can install that much installed solar capacity or wind capacity in such a short timeframe. One big impediment that were beginning to see more of, is that the utilities Reluctance to purchase renewable energy from a solar away informed that they do not own her control. In addition the distributed energy derived from homeowners Solar is Getting harder to justify because the utilities do not want the competition. After all in their business model why would they want to pay $.7 per kilowatt to a homeowner, when they can make the same power for two or three cents a kilowatt. But in the next five years or so I believe flow batteries will be available to homeowners at a reasonable price and that many homeowners will begin to disconnect from their local utility. When this occurs and the utilities begin to lose customers then just like Verizon, Sprint and your local cellular provider many of the large utilities will consolidate and begin to offer special deals on power to their customers. So we may begin to see utilities offering to customers with batteries, incredibly low rates in off hours to recharge their batteries. You might even be able to charge your batteries for $.02-$.03 per kilowatt hour after midnight. This will drastically reduce your energy bill but it will also allow the utilities to keep you as a customer. I mention that this will occur after midnight, but it is more likely to occur from 12noon to four in the afternoon because of the power generated through utility Solar. I also expect that most homeowners will opt for batteries only, and forgo their own solar panels. After all if you can buy power so cheap from the utility, why would you make it on your own.
So these are the dilemmas that your major utilities are currently wrestling with. They’re wondering how they can continue to pay their investors, increase their solar fields, and hold onto customers when they know technology will make it difficult for them to do so. All the while politically, they have to wrestle with the green new deal, their local public utility commission that’s investigating them for corruption. I expect that many of the utilities will be Either too big to fail, or a monopoly after they merge. All of this will end up in court and the court will probably rule that large utilities will be broken up into much smaller ones.. As the court rules to break up the monopolies, even the co-ops will be broken up, And the rules regarding distributed Solar will be dictated by the courts in favor of private individuals.
From the “there is always a pony in there” perspective …
This exchange reveals what could be considered a common perception / misconception and has therefore revealed what might be considered a simple parry to a now known thrust … eh?
The nation’s electric grid stands at just under two percent solar powered. The Federal Tax Credit offering to pay for nearly one-third of the system cost (thirty percent) expires on December 31st, 2019.
Rolling back incentives for commercial and residential installations certainly won’t have us at one hundred percent renewables by 2030. Hell, the goal of fifteen percent by 2025 is audacious enough (#SolarizeAmerica).
Also, electric utilities have no time-based mandate or regulation that says they need to allow Permission To Operate (PTO) and fire up installs after interconnecting solar customers. This causes preventable delays from time of install until the solar array can be turned on. With electricity rates rising year after year to supposedly be applied to “infrastructure” upgrades to handle more solar coming online, you would see market efficiencies by hiring more PTO inspectors to address that market scarcity problem.
But electric companies are in no real hurry to reduce their profits by losing customers to solar until they themselves have fired up solar farms to compete with rooftop systems. It’s a money fight, always has been.
How are average voters supposed to know about all these nuances when answering polling questions? They can’t, hence their optimism about 100% by 2030.
I appreciate your insight on many of these details; however I do want to offer that according to our analysis of data by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, solar (both utility-scale and behind the meter) met 2.4% of U.S. electricity demand in 2018. Together with wind, this reached nearly 9%.
Also, were solar deployment to continue on its historical growth path of over 40% annually, it would meet more than 100% of current demand by 2030. We don’t expect that to happen, but eliminating the vast majority of fossil fuel generation from our electricity supply is something that we could technically achieve by 2030. It’s a question of the choices we make and the political will. And yes, it will come down to details of implementation including the ones you describe.
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