Americans want more solar and wind, not coal – Gallup poll

by Joe Smyth

March 30, 2015

Solarize Charlotte Project Installation

Christian Lofton with Renewable Energy Design (RED) Group and Daryl Cox with Sylverster & Cockrum Installers, aligning a panel and tightening the nib clamps. Solarize Charlotte is a grassroots initiative to help make the transition to solar power as affordable as possible.

© Jason Miczek / Greenpeace

A new Gallup pollshows that broad majorities of Americans want more emphasis on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, while coal remains least popular. Heres the main table from the Gallup poll: Gallup poll - overall As you can see in the table above, the poll shows that a full 79% of Americans want more emphasis on producing energy from solar power, while only 28% want more emphasis on producing energy from coal. Another table shows that while there are some differences between Republicans and Democrats, the overall breakdown is similar when it comes to support for renewable energy and coal. Also noteworthy is that independent voters are even more supportive of solar than average, and less supportive of coal -83% want more emphasis on solar, while just 24% want more emphasis on coal. See the table below: Gallup poll - partisan breakdown These numbers hint at a key reason why the coal industrys PR campaign to attack clean air and climate change policies as a war on coal has mostly failed - to a lot of people, it seems like a pretty good idea to move away from a source of energy that pollutes our air and water, fuels climate change, and disrupts communities with coal trains, strip mines, and leaking coal ash pits. In fact, some in the coal industry know this: Luke Popovich, the head of the National Mining Association admitted:

Anyway, war on coal never resonated with much conviction among ordinary Americans. For them, the EPA keeps the air and water clean, their kids safe.

Last week, coal CEO Bob Murray described coal industry public relations as terrible - and while I tend to agree, the broadly negative public opinion about coal is likely a more important factor behind the coal industrys failed PR efforts. Its one thing to sell a deadly and polluting product like coal to Congress (along with campaign contributions to sweeten the deal), but actually shifting public opinion appears to be beyond the coal industrys best efforts. Similarly, broad support for solar power is surely making it tougher for the utility and fossil fuel industries attacks against solar power, as Mike Brune points out:

The latest round of fossil fuel zombie attacks is coming from big utilities that want to stop the spread of rooftop solar. Just like a zombie horde, they use tactics that are clumsy, somewhat brainless, and yet potentially effective... There's one big problem with this campaign against rooftop solar. Across the U.S., people love solar power.

One more observation: Gallup compared responses to this years poll to a similar one conducted in 2013. Heres that table: Gallup poll - change over time Gallup makes some observations about the apparent trends:

Since 2013, support for "more emphasis" on natural gas production has dropped 10 percentage points and there has been a five-point drop in the percentage who want more emphasis on oil, possibly reflecting that the U.S. is producing more of these two commodities than in 2013. There has been no meaningful change in support for expanding solar power or wind as part of a national energy strategy; the same is true for nuclear and coal energy. (emphasis added)

Their suggestion is that public support for oil and gas development has dropped slightly because more oil and gas is being produced - perhaps because some Americans think the increases in oil and gas development in recent years have been sufficient, and perhaps some have soured as the negative impacts of drilling and fracking for oil and gas become more clear and affect more communities. But heres the thing: renewable energy like wind and solar has also boomed in recent years, while support hasnt weakened at all - and thats in the face of well-funded fossil fuel industry attacks on renewable energy. In fact, seeing a neighbor go solar may just lead to more nearby solar power installations, according to a recent study, as Chris Mooney detailed: The installation of one additional solar photovoltaic rooftop project within the past six months in a given area increased the average number of installations within a half mile radius by .44, or almost one half. Basically, just seeing more solar installations helps convince more people to go solar. So: coal remains Americans least favored energy source, support for oil and gas appears to have dropped slightly during the oil and gas boom, and wind and solar remain highly popular among all Americans, especially independent voters.

By Joe Smyth

Joe Smyth is a media officer for Greenpeace USA's climate and energy campaigns.

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