Environment, Legislature

Renewable energy popular among voters, regardless of party. Duke Energy, not so much.


W hile Republican state lawmakers are crafting bills to stall or roll back renewable energy, that could cost them votes in the next election — even among hard-core conservatives. A new poll sponsored by Conservatives for Clean Energy reveals that more than 83 percent of North Carolina voters polled said they would be more likely to support a lawmaker or candidate who supports policies that encourage renewable energy options such as solar, wind, and swine and poultry waste.

Broken down by party, 79.1 percent of Republican voters and 73.5 percent of Trump supporters would support a clean-energy candidate.

Conservatives for Clean Energy hired Republican consulting firm Strategic Partners Solutions to conduct a telephone poll of 600 North Carolina voters on Feb. 26 and 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent. This is the third year for the poll.

There was also strong support for keeping — and even strengthening — the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. Currently, public utilities have to provide 6 percent of their energy from renewable sources; that benchmark is scheduled to rise to 10 percent in 2018 top out at 12.5 percent in 2021. House Bill 267 would flatline that threshold at 8 percent. Republicans Jimmy Dixon and John Bell are the primary sponsors of the bill.

Sixty percent of Democrats, 59 percent of unaffiliated voters, and 45 percent of Republicans would support doubling the renewable energy threshold to 25 percent.

But even skeptical voters warm to the REPS when they learn more about its benefits: 34,000 new solar jobs, and additional tax revenue for local government, the poll said. Nearly 56 percent agree that multi-acre solar projects positively impact communities.

E nergy efficiency legislation was also popular among respondents. Eighty-eight percent of all voters would more likely support a candidate who promoted energy efficiency legislation. That includes 82.7 percent of Trump voters.

Filed last week, Senate Bill 236 would encourage energy efficiency with several new programs to reduce the state’s electricity consumption by 40 to 60 percent over the next 10 years. First, the bill would require the state utilities commission to establish a tiered rate system. The proposed rate structure would charge high-use customers more than low-use. Low-income families could receive an exemption.

The bill would also create an Energy Efficiency Bank. The funds, which would be administered by a third-party, could be loaned to electricity customers to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Customers would repay the loan through monthly installments on their electricity bill. Low-income households would receive grants, which would not need to be repaid.

The bill’s co-sponsors are Democrats Mike Woodard, Erika Smith-Ingram and Valerie Foushee.

T hird-party sales, currently illegal in North Carolina, received overwhelming support among all political leanings. More Republicans (81.7 percent) than unaffiliated (79.4 percent) or Democrats (76.4 percent) favor those sales. Under that program, other utilities could compete with Duke to provide electricity. The Court of Appeals is considering a case that pits the clean energy nonprofit NC WARN against Duke Energy and the utilities commission. NC WARN wants to sell a small amount of solar power to a church as part of a leasing agreement for the rooftop system. Duke and the utilities commission contend that NC WARN is illegally acting as a utility.

Duke Energy, unsurprisingly, was unpopular among those surveyed. Thirty-eight percent of all voters polled said that high salaries for utility executives and company profits are the primary driver of higher energy costs. Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good’s annual compensation package is worth nearly $11 million.

Another quarter attribute those increases to a lack of competition. Duke Energy, for example, holds a near-monopoly in North Carolina. Two-thirds of respondents said they wanted more options.

More than 80 percent of North Carolina voters polled said Duke Energy should dip into its profits to pay for the coal ash clean up — not pass the costs onto ratepayers. (Screenshot from Conservatives for Clean Energy poll)

Across the political spectrum, more than 80 percent of voters want Duke Energy to use its profits from its $2.15 billion in earnings to pay for the clean up of coal ash ponds — not pass along those costs to ratepayers. Twelve percent said they would support a minimum rate increase.

Coal and natural gas did have some support. Republicans, rural voters and those over 40 were more likely to support a candidate who favors fossil fuel energy. Unaffiliated (50.4 percent) and GOP voters (81.7 percent) also favored construction of natural gas pipelines to meet energy needs. Only 40 percent of Democrats surveyd said they were more likely to support such a candidate, while more than half would more likely oppose that person.

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