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New surveys show public support strengthening for renewable energy, weakening for nuclear

Cai Steger

Posted March 25, 2011 in Moving Beyond Oil

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Some interesting new survey data has been released on American public attitudes towards different energy technologies in the wake of the crisis and tragedy in Japan. (actually survey data here, here and here).  Generally, these polls show a limited change in the public mood, with a weakened support for nuclear power (although less concern about its overall safety) and continued strong support for renewable energy.   

However, like Carmelo and the Knicks, the Bulls recent resurgence, and the new looks of the Celtics and Thunder, it’s a little premature to draw conclusions from such early data points (especially as we all know the road to the title inevitably ends in L.A.) but it’s worth keeping an eye on these surveys.  A number of important renewable energy policies will be up for consideration in Congress in the next year or two (a federal clean energy standard, the Treasury cash grant, the production tax credit, loan guarantees and possibly a clean energy deployment administration, and tens of billions in funding for renewable energy and related innovation) and with the federal political dynamic being what it is, the opinion of Americans, especially voting Americans, could help to influence the outcome of these policy debates (apparently I’m in an optimistic place this morning)

(There’s also an important discussion also taking place among many stakeholders about the broader role of nuclear in a low carbon economy, and anticipated impacts on natural gas and renewables builds, but that’s a much longer post for another day)

Opinion is mixed on nuclear per a recent CBS News poll, with most Americans believing nuclear still safe,  but no longer wanting them built (especially in their community).        

The poll, taken following the start of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, found that 50 percent of Americans disapprove of building new nuclear plants. That's an increase of 16 points since the question was last asked in 2008.  Only 43 percent, meanwhile, approve of building more nuclear plants - a drop of 14 points from the 2008 poll.  More than two in three Americans do say U.S. nuclear plants are generally safe, while just 22 percent say they are not safe. And 47 percent say the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks, compared to 38 percent who say they do not.

But Americans are clearly concerned about those risks. Sixty-five percent say they are at least somewhat concerned about a nuclear accident in the United States, including 31 percent who are very concerned. And 62 percent say they would oppose the construction of a nuclear plant in their community, compared to 35 percent who would support a new plant in their community

(for those who see the world in charts):

 CBS Poll 1.jpg

Via Politico, CNN has its own poll out, tracking nuclear opinion, but also helpfully (for this blog post) asking about preferences for renewable energy.  The nuclear numbers here are very similar to the CBS poll (which shouldn’t be surprising, given that these are supposed to be surveys of the same population.)  .

53 percent of Americans said they oppose the construction of new plants, up from 47 percent in a CNN poll conducted in March 2010. Forty-six percent said they support the construction of new plants, down from 50 percent in last year’s poll.  Though a small majority of Americans are against the building of new nuclear plants, 57 percent said they support the domestic use of nuclear energy, while 42 percent said they are opposed to it…Most Americans have a “not in my backyard” attitude toward nuclear plants, with 60 percent of those surveyed saying they wouldn’t want one to be built in their own community, while 39 percent said it would be acceptable

CNN Poll 1.jpg 

(The question about willingness to pay more to reduce nuclear power could possibly be a proxy for the relative strength of these opinions)

Regarding renewable energy (I’m probably burying the lead here), CNN’s poll finds that solar and wind power remain extremely popular among Americans – 88% believe we should rely more on solar power for our energy needs and 83% support wind.  Natural gas was the only other energy generation technology supported by a majority of Americans, drawing 70% support.

CNN Poll 2.jpg

Pew Research returned similar views in their recent poll, finding that Americans are much more in favor of increased funding for renewable technologies (74%) than they are increasing nuclear power (39%), although interestingly offshore drilling, public transit and hybrid vehicle tax incentives all drew similar levels of majority support (around 57% - 61%)

Pew Poll 1.jpg

All told – these are only just snapshots of public opinion at a specific point in time, but at the very least, they demonstrate the continued growth in acceptance of renewable energy, and, importantly,  a continued willingness to fund investment in these technologies.  Lets hope those in Congress are listening...

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Comments

Conservation JobsMar 26 2011 01:39 PM

Let's hope some good will come out of the crisis in Japan and governments will invest more into renewable energy resources so that they can become a viable alternative for fossil fuels and nuclear.

Jon.

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