People want smarter energy choices

If you think backing renewable energy might be a good idea for the U.S. economy, then you’re not alone—not by a long shot.

A slew of studies have emerged recently, painting a clear picture of public opinion on renewable energy. Though the positive findings from both the public and business leaders are not surprising to many, the broader conclusions tell a great deal about the growing prominence of the clean energy economy: renewable energy deployment in the U.S. is now drawing overwhelming support.

Let’s take a quick look at the latest numbers:

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A poll recently conducted by Stanford University and USA Today found that 91 percent of U.S. adults say it’s a “good idea” to generate electricity from sunlight, and 84 percent say the same for generating power from wind. A much smaller number—only 21 percent—say producing electricity from coal is a “good idea.” And in the same study, a majority— 55 percent —back the EPA plans to cut carbon pollution by proposing limits to greenhouses gases emitted by power plants. National polling firm, Gallup, released research earlier this year that discovered 67 percent of Americans favor spending more government money on developing renewable energy technologies. Echoing these findings, a July survey conducted by the University of Michigan found 60 percent in support of a cost-effective carbon tax. An impressive 51 percent of Republicans lent their voice to the majority, if such a proposal used its funding for renewable power programs.

Factors in each of these studies included the broader discussion of climate change. But even though the studies provide solid evidence that most Americans recognize the adverse effects of carbon-producing power plants, an even larger proportion of Americans support renewable energy for business and economic reasons.

Take, for example, yet another study conducted recently by the Small Business Majority. Of the small business owners polled from across the country, a majority support EPA regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants. An additional 76 percent of small business owners are in favor of requiring new power plants to reduce carbon pollution. Clearly, small business owners across the nation see energy efficiency and reductions in carbon emissions as good for their wallets.

The American Council On Renewable Energy backed up this thesis with our own research. Recently released in June, ACORE’s poll discovered 81 percent of business leaders in the Southwest and Midwest believe renewable energy will help their business. Additionally, 78 percent of the same group of business leaders are strongly interested in investing in renewables in the future.

These studies show that renewable energy hasn’t just arrived; it’s ready to drive a true low-carbon economy now and into the future. 

Looking deeper, we can draw several additional conclusions from this outpouring of support for clean energy: first, the studies suggest that renewable energy is a stable and now irrevocable part of the national energy plan, and second, the studies show that most citizens and business leaders are already highly invested, practically speaking, in renewable energy — including those same small business owners who provide more than half of all U.S. jobs.

Due to the progress made by small business men and women across the country, over 50 percent of America’s new energy capacity came from clean, renewable energy in the first half of 2014. Considering the recent growth in U.S. energy production, this impressive statistic suggests that the renewable industry’s expansion is an outgrowth of consumer desires, free business practices and market forces. 

As the renewables market grows, it is important to be mindful of its wide-ranging public support. This vital and well-established industry doesn’t just hope to grow, it will grow. Now is the time to level the playing field, opening the door for the private sector to lead, and allowing people the freedom to make smarter energy choices. It’s what the people want.

Hunter is the lead Research and Program Manager at the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), a non-profit organization dedicated to building a secure and prosperous America with clean, renewable energy.

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