Judging from many of the recent headlines, one might think that the clean energy economy in the Northeast was losing public support. According to a recent survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, however, public support for policies that promote clean energy and lower carbon dioxide emissions continues to be quite strong. "Public Support for Climate and Energy Policies in May 2011" finds that 91 percent of Americans believe that developing clean sources of energy should be a priority. A slightly smaller majority, 71 percent, believes that addressing global warming should be a priority. Popular opinion also favors stronger state action for the clean energy economy, with 54 percent stating that their governors and their state legislatures should take more action to address the challenge.
Support for specific policies to promote energy efficiency and clean energy that may result in increased electricity rates or inconvenience is often weaker, however. Hence the controversy over the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and stronger building energy codes in our region. The Yale Project survey contains findings in this area that advocates should find illuminating. Results worth noting include:
- 48 percent stated that they would pay $1.50 more on their monthly energy bills to pay for local energy saving programs, while 52% were opposed
- 71 percent favored regulations that would require new homes to be more energy efficient (noting additional upfront costs of $7,500), while only 29 percent were opposed
- 45 percent supported a monthly increase of $5 in their property taxes to fund energy efficiency improvements to their homes, while 55 percent were against
These results demonstrate that significant support exists for addressing energy waste through stronger energy codes and ratepayer energy efficiency programs. It also shows the continued challenge of demonstrating that energy efficiency will reduce customers' energy costs in the medium and long-term. Innovative outreach efforts may help to address concerns over upfront costs.
As states in the Northeast aim for higher and higher energy savings goals in the years ahead, public support and robust participation will be crucial. Advocates should monitor the Yale Project's work and make sure that policymakers take note as well.