Green and Clean is Good—if it does not cost more!


That was the conclusion from a newly released FT/Harris poll in the US and EU. The poll was conducted online between September 15 and 21, 2010 by Harris Interactive and included input from 6,255 adults aged 16-64 distributed among France (1,102), Germany (1,029), Great Britain (1,056), Spain (1,006), U.S. (1,002) and adults aged 18-64 in Italy (1,060).

The results of this latest Harris poll # 119 are strikingly similar to previous surveys on the same question.  Respondents are clear there is strong support for using more clean sources of renewable energy, such as wind farms, but they object to paying significantly more for it.

The main findings of this new poll include:

  • BUILD MORE WIND FARMS: Support ranged from 90% in Spain and 87% in the U.S. to 77% in France.
  • BIOFUELS SUBIDIES: Support for more subsidies ranged from 77% in Italy and 76% in Spain to 60% in the U.S. for the use of bio-fuels. But only 13% in Britain and 34% in Spain favor this “strongly” according to the Ft/Harris poll.
  • BUILD MORE NUKES–Maybe: Evenly split views in the U.S., Britain and France but opposition in Italy (60%), Spain (63%) and Germany (77%);
  • BUT WE DON’T WANT TO PAY MORE: The survey found most customers unwilling to pay more than 5% more on their utility bills for clean energy. The US lead countries willing to pay more than 5% at 32% in the U.S. and 31% in Italy but only 17% in Spain were willing to pay more and only 20% in France.  Remember, Spain is where the big problem of failed feed-in-tariffs happened last year creating problems for customers and vendors of solar panels when the government withdrew the FiT subsidy.
  • HELL NO WE WON’T PAY! The EU estimates it will cost a typical utility customer $220 more each month to cut greenhouse emissions and add enough renewable energy to achieve its reduction goals.  Will you pay that much?  77% in France, 76% in Britain and 65% in Germany said—‘what part of NO, NO, NO don’t you people understand!

So what?

The thing I like about this FT/Harris poll is that it is repeated periodically to judge changes in attitudes on the same questions over time.  This poll has been taken in both boom times in the economy and now as the economy is in the ditch.  But the answers are surprisingly consistent.  Ratepayers favor using clean, renewable energy by large margins across many countries IF AND ONLY IS it does not cost more.  They do not favor more government subsidies except to jump start new industries like biofuels.  Support for adding more nuclear power is broadly even with some regional differences.

But those views by voters and ratepayers continue to be at odds with the policymakers and regulators who are using mandates to require more renewable energy, biofuels even if it costs more—sometimes substantially more.  As those costs begin rolling into rates pressure is rising to control them even if it means dialing back on the subsidies. Some of that pressure is related to the recession but more broadly there is a growing need to reconcile the public attitude that markets and competition should give us better, cleaner technology at about the same prices with the policymakers desire to use industrial policy to pick winners or direct the markets through subsidies and taxes.