Poll: Even Ohio’s coal country supports more use of clean energy

Source: By Kathiann M. Kowalsk, Midwestern Energy News • Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Wind turbines in Ohio, where new polling shows strong support among voters for clean energy policy.

New poll results show that a majority of Ohio voters continue to support state policies to encourage more use of clean energy, including a renewable portfolio standard and revised wind turbine setbacks — even in the state’s coal country region.

Eighty-seven percent of voters statewide said they would tell elected officials to support policies that encourage energy efficiency and more renewable energy use, The Nature Conservancy of Ohio reported in a poll this week. The results come amid continued efforts by some Republican lawmakers to scale back clean energy policy.

“The survey clearly demonstrates that Ohio voters see energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as something the state should place greater emphasis on,” said pollster Lori Weigel at Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the survey of 600 voters and analyzed the results. Public Opinion Strategies bills itself as the “nation’s largest Republican polling firm.”

Statewide, the breakdown by party affiliation for that general support of clean energy policies was 77 percent Republicans, 97 percent Democrats and 87 percent of Independents or other parties.

“Ohio is not atypical,” Weigel said. “We tend to see this nationally as well.”

A closer look

Supplemental interviews zeroed in on public opinion in a 12-county region making up southeastern Ohio. That region has most of the state’s coal mining areas, as well as a large number of fracked wells for natural gas. Voters in the area tend to be “more Republican,” Weigel observed — about 42 percent for southeastern Ohio versus roughly 30 percent statewide.

Even in Southeast Ohio, however, 79 percent said they would tell elected officials to support policies to encourage energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy. Only 19 percent of respondents in that area said they would urge officials to oppose such policies. (This link gives more detailed polling data and samples of questions asked.)

Moreover, respondents in Southeast Ohio said they would like an average of 55 percent of Ohio’s electricity to come from renewable resources. Statewide, respondents said they’d like an average of 61 percent. “It’s a distinction, but really it’s a distinction without a difference,” Weigel said.

“When it gets to specific policies … there’s not a lot of partisan distinction,” Weigel continued.

Statewide, for example, 93 percent of both Democrats and Republicans said they support continued net metering for utility customers that generate some of their own power through wind, solar or other renewable sources.

For wind energy, 80 percent of Republicans and 93 percent of Democrats said they would support more reasonable setback limits for wind turbines. A 2014 budget bill amendment tripled the previous property line setbacks.

In a similar vein, 84 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Independents and 96 percent of Democrats would require electric utilities to provide cost-effect programs to help customers make energy efficiency upgrades to their homes and businesses.

The gap was wider for support of a renewable portfolio standard similar to the current Ohio law. Yet more than two-thirds of Republicans and roughly nine out of ten Democrats statewide favored requirements to increase utilities’ use of renewable energy up to 12.5 percent over the next eight years.

Similarly, 92 percent of survey respondents statewide said they would be willing to pay more on their electric bills to boost the use of renewable energy. For Southeast Ohio, that number was 91 percent.

“While respondents were informed that ‘the cost of renewable energy is coming down dramatically,’ they were asked hypothetically if it did cost more how much they would be willing to pay per month in higher electricity prices,” according to the survey results. Almost half said they would pay $10 or more per month.

Clashing with pending bills

The new poll results are consistent with survey results reported in 2016 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. At that time, almost two-thirds of Ohioans, or 64 percent, said they would set strict limits for carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The same percentage said they would require utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

Voters’ preference for renewable energy standards appears to clash with pending House Bill 114, which would essentially make the existing standards voluntary. The House passed that bill in March by a vote of 65 to 29. The bill is now pending in the Ohio Senate.

The Nature Conservancy of Ohio opposes the bill in its current form. “Like the majority of Ohioans, TNC is supportive of the energy standards and promoting renewable energy development that will create jobs and grow the state’s economy,” said Leonardo Almeida at the group’s office in Dublin.

The organization also supports relaxing the current property line setback for wind turbines, “which makes it nearly impossible for new wind sources to be developed in Ohio,” Almeida added. An amendment to the 2017 budget bill in the Ohio Senate was removed by the conference committee in June.

“Not only is the current setback excessive, it is unnecessary, as the Ohio Power Siting Board has the authority to require greater setbacks on a case-by-case basis,” Almeida continued. “As our poll shows, 86 percent of Ohioans also support a less restrictive wind farm setback limit.”