Poll shows broad support for state-level renewable mandates 

Source: Scott Detrow, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A new poll from the National Surveys on Energy and Environment shows broad — but conditional — support for state-level renewable portfolio standards. Nearly three-quarters of poll respondents back the idea of states requiring a set percentage of electricity to be produced by renewable sources like wind and solar.

That support decreases, however, the more the price goes up. While 58 percent of respondents told pollsters they’d still back an RPS that increased annual electricity prices $25, support dropped to 45 percent when the hypothetical price tag hit $50. And the vast majority of those surveyed have no idea whether or not their state even has an RPS on its books.

The poll is a joint venture between the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College.

The latest survey comes during a volatile year for state-level renewable energy policies. Both Kansas and West Virginia have repealed their renewable energy mandates in recent months. On the other end of the spectrum, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has set a course for the nation’s largest state to receive half of its energy from renewable sources over the coming decades. Vermont and Hawaii are now on track to go even further, with Hawaii setting a goal of 100 percent renewable power within 30 years.

On top of that, U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan looms on the horizon. The regulation, expected to be finalized this summer, aims to lower the power sector’s carbon footprint 30 percent below 2005 levels over the next 15 years. Many states will undoubtedly turn to renewable energy to help meet their emissions reduction targets.

‘Strong’ RPS opposition also rises in recent years

Barry Rabe, who directs Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, said support for renewable energy mandates has stayed relatively steady since he first began asking about it in 2009. “Unless you attach a price to it, this has a fairly broad buy-in that cuts across different demographic groups,” said Rabe.

The 2009 survey found that 77 percent of respondents “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed with the idea of RPS mandates. The figure jumped to 79 percent in 2013 and dropped to 74 percent in 2015.

While the number of respondents who “somewhat disagree” with mandates has stayed steady, as well, Rabe did note that those who “strongly disagree” have increased from 8 to 15 percent of respondents over time. He said increasingly polarized energy politics could have played a role in that growth.

Still, most respondents are in the dark when it comes to their states’ electricity requirements. Nearly 6 in 10 respondents said they didn’t know whether their state had an RPS. And less than half of those who did answer the poll’s question provided the correct response.

“We were actually surprised that 3 of 5 would say, ‘Gee, I’m not sure if my state had done this,'” Rabe said. “These are not brand-new policies. Most were enacted between 1998 and 2009.”

According to the report, 29 states have some sort of renewable energy mandate in place.

The telephone poll surveyed 751 adults over a three-week April window. It has a 3.6-percentage-point margin of error.