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Poll: N.C. voters want choice on buying clean energy – Charlotte Business Journal

Poll: N.C. voters want choice on buying clean energy

Charlotte Business Journal by John Downey, Senior Staff Writer

Date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012, 2:36pm EDT – Last Modified: Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 5:37pm EDT

N.C. residents say encouraging more renewable energy use should be among the top priorities of N.C. leaders.

John Downey

Senior Staff Writer – Charlotte Business Journal

Almost 87 percent of North Carolinians would support legislation that allowed them to buy electricity produced by clean renewable resource from power companies other than their local utilities, according to a new poll.

The survey, commissioned by the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, polled 703 people statewide. It was conducted in late March by Fallon Research, based in Columbus, Ohio, and has a margin of error of 3.7 percent.

The association is using the poll to support its call for the General Assembly to allow renewable energy producers to sell power directly to customers.

The group argues that allowing such sales would encourage the development of more solar and other renewable energy products and drive down the costs for clean energy. Current law requires all non-utility energy producers in North Carolina to sell any commercial power they make to the local utility for resale.

Pointed questions

The poll pointedly asks whether a legislator’s support for changing that law would affect each respondents propensity to vote for that legislator. Overall, 46 percent said supporting the legislation would make them more likely to vote for the legislator and only 5 percent said it would make them less likely.

About 43 percent said it would make no difference and 5 percent said they were unsure.

Paul Fallon, whose company administered the survey, said the poll was designed to reflect the opinions of consistent voters — people who either had voted in several recent elections or recently registered voters who cast a ballot in at least one recent election.

Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the sustainable energy association, says the poll was aimed at consistent voters to make the information “more relevant for legislators.” He says the support for the ability to choose to buy power directly from a renewable energy producers is consistent with what the association has been hearing from businesses and private citizens across the state.

Rising prices

The proposed legislation would allow renewable energy companies to sell power directly to residential customers or businesses that allowed the producer to build an energy project on their property. The power could be sold only to the property owners.

But it would allow them to pay a fixed cost for energy over a long contract period — 20 years or more— without having to make the up-front investment to install the project themselves.

The poll showed respondents are acutely aware of rising energy prices, with 76 percent correctly saying prices increased in the last two years. And 55 percent said utility rates are too high.

About 21 percent of respondents said reducing food, fuel and energy costs ought to be a top priority for state leaders. That’s up slightly from poll results in 2011 and behind attracting new businesses (33 percent) and improving education (23 percent). But it finished well ahead of lowering taxes (12 percent), preventing home foreclosures (3 percent) and fighting crime (1 percent) as the top priority.

Supporting renewables

The survey also showed continued strong support for renewable energy 89 percent supporting more development of solar power, 81.2 percent supporting more onshore wind development and 76.2 percent showing more support for offshore wind development.

Among traditional energy sources, natural gas received the most support at 83.7 percent. Nuclear received support from 57 percent of respondents, and 56.1 percent supported coal as a resource for electricity.

While 81.4 percent of respondents agreed that N.C. elected officials should seek more renewable energy sources for the state, there appears to be falling support for the 2007 that mandates increased use of renewables in the state.

Fallon found that 68 percent of respondents thought passing that law, which established the renewable energy portfolio standard in the state, was a good idea. But that was down from 79 percent who thought it was a good idea when the question was asked last year.

Julie Robinson of the association says Fallon considered the decline a slight one and emphasized that it likely had more to do with the fact that the law is five years old than with a significant drop in support.

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