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The John W. Pope Civitas Institute has issued a new poll this week that found "Voters soundly opposed to paying more for so-called Green Energy."

Those results would appear to stand in stark contrast with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association’s poll from January that found "North Carolinians overwhelmingly support the increased use of clean energy sources like solar or wind energy."

I submit, however, that the poll results are quite similar. Consistent findings include:

1. When costs aren’t a factor, North Carolinians generally and widely favor renewable energy sources.

NCSEA: 82.6% agree with officials "seeking more alternative and renewable energy sources"

Civitas: 70% support "the increased usage of renewable sources to generate electricity"

NCSEA paid more attention to this aspect, of course, finding strong majorities favoring the use of solar, wind, and biomass "in order to meet growing needs for energy and electricity to residences and businesses in North Carolina." (The poll also found majorities favoring coal, nuclear, and natural gas for that purpose, suggesting that what most North Carolinians favor is tapping energy sources to meet growing energy needs.)

2. North Carolinians want to be able to choose, individually, how much of their electricity comes from renewable energy sources — not have it dictated to them.

NCSEA: 79.5% support "new legislation that would create opportunities for alternative energy companies that use sustainable and renewable energy resources, such as the sun and wind, to offer power and electricity services directly to consumers and businesses in North Carolina"

Civitas: 40% would "voluntarily pay more to buy electricity for your home or business that was generated by sources such as solar and wind"

3. North Carolinians suspect the monopoly utilities are taking advantage of them.

NCSEA: A majority think that "rates that consumers and businesses are charged for power and electricity" are "too high," and furthermore, 70% "think that the prices that consumers and businesses are charged for power and electricity" over the past two years have "increased." The largest plurality (35.7%) say "the biggest reason that [rates] have increased" is "Power companies increasing their profits."

Civitas: Nearly two-thirds disagree that "North Carolina power customers should pay higher electricity rates to support companies that produce electricity using solar [or wind] power," and 58% think that "Power company shareholders" are the ones "who should be responsible for the higher costs associated with renewable energy."

And most importantly,

4. North Carolinians dislike being forced to pay more for electricity than they ought to.

Look over the results given under item 3 again. NCSEA finds that most North Carolinians think they (a) pay too much for electricity and (b) have been hit with price increases very recently. Happily for NCSEA, ratepayers blame the utilities’ corporate greed — but the poll asks them about prices before discussing the 2007 renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) law.

That question gave a rundown of the goals of RPS law: "create new clean energy jobs in the energy sector…make it easier to attract private investments for development of new technologies…improve public health by requiring greater reliance on renewable energy and energy efficiency…and…use more of the energy resources that are available within North Carolina." (Note: for a discussion of how poorly the law has achieved those goals, see the opening of my study.) It then asked if respondents think the law was a good idea, "generally speaking." Not surprisingly, a strong majority (69.7%) thought it was — meaning that they agree nice sentiments are nice. Notice that the result is essentially the same finding as the 70% in the Civitas poll who voiced general support for "the increased usage of renewable sources to generate electricity."

The closest NCSEA came to the issue of cost was to ask people if their opinion of the RPS law changed after being told "As a result of this law, customers pay less than one dollar more per month on their electrical bills." Most (68.8%) reported no change of opinion; slightly more (16.5% to 10.7%) viewed the law more favorably than less.

Civitas addressed the cost issue in ways that NCSEA did not, finding 67% oppose "the existing state law that requires you to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy each month, even if it costs you more" (emphasis added). Going further, Civitas found a majority (53%) was "Not willing to pay more" when asked "How much more are you willing to spend on your monthly electricity bill in order to pay for more electricity derived from renewable sources?" Civitas found 21% willing to spend "Up to $10" more.

Neither poll asked respondents how much more they thought their neighbors should be made to pay.

Lesson for RPS supporters: Hide the costs

What the two polls also reveal is the crucial importance of the ongoing shell game of hiding the cost increases owing to the RPS mandate. They include, among other things:

  • purchase requirements for renewable energy credits (many purchased from out-of-state facilities; utilities can use out-of-state credits to satisfy fully 25 percent of the RPS mandate)
  • taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy sources
  • regressive energy-efficiency measures that utilities pay for through hidden fees levied against their customers (q.v., "The company would be able to recover the costs of the program, including lost energy sales, from all customers through rate increases")
  • lost jobs, lost investment, and loss of disposable income

The recent, accelerating rate hikes can’t be hidden, of course, but perhaps they can be made to seem merely coincidental with the RPS mandate by pretending the cost of the mandate to consumers is just the heavily tailored monthly fee.

Occasional slip-ups will happen, however; such as Progress Energy’s recent proposal for a double-digit rate hike that would "help the company as it transitions to cleaner energy" and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers telling shareholders this week that "clean energy is not necessarily cheap energy."

The NCSEA and Civitas polls show that North Carolinians have a favorable view in general of renewable energy sources. Civitas shows that they have an unfavorable view of renewable energy sources raising their electricity rates without their say-so.

Both polls show, too, that North Carolinians would be happy to let individual ratepayers choose to pay more for electricity from renewable energy sources, and it’s a choice many might make, if only legislators would allow them.

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