Public and policy interest in renewable energy has grown nationwide in recent years. According to the results of recent research sponsored by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a majority of Pennsylvanians said they would like more of their electricity to come from renewable sources and would be willing to pay more to achieve higher renewable energy production.
The research on Pennsylvanians’ attitudes toward renewable energy was conducted by Dr. Clare Hinrichs, Dr. Richard Ready, John Eshleman and James Yoo of Pennsylvania State University.
The research found that Pennsylvanians highly rate hydropower, solar electricity and wind power, followed by nuclear power and natural gas, for electricity generation.
It also found that the average household in Pennsylvania is willing to pay $55 per year to increase wind and other renewable production (excluding biomass combustion) by an amount equal to 1 percent of Pennsylvania electricity consumption.
To learn more about rural and urban Pennsylvanians’ attitudes on renewable energy, their views on the impacts of renewable energy generation facilities and their willingness to pay for renewable energy, the researchers conducted focus group interviews, a mail survey and case study focus groups in five rural communities in 2010 and 2011.
The two focus group sessions were conducted in 2010 in Huntingdon and Pittsburgh and included six and 10 participants, respectively. The surveys were mailed to 1,600 Pennsylvania residents and yielded a 50.4 percent response rate. And the rural case study focus groups included a community with an established wind energy operation, a community where a new wind energy operation had been proposed, a community with an established biomass energy operation and a community with a proposed biomass energy operation. A fifth community, with no existing or known proposed utility-scale renewable energy operation, was used as a “control” community.
In the Huntingdon and Pittsburgh focus groups, participants mentioned a variety of renewable energy options, with wind, solar, and biomass (specifically methane digestion) receiving particular attention. The Huntingdon group spoke more specifically about particular types of renewable energy and generally demonstrated greater knowledge about renewable energy options.
The Pittsburgh group focused its discussion more toward the benefits and drawbacks, community-level implications, and political process of renewable energy proliferation more generally.
The survey data indicated that Pennsylvania residents prefer some electricity technologies over others. Hydropower, solar electricity, wind power, and improved efficiency were all highly rated by respondents. Nuclear power and natural gas were rated next highest. Biomass combustion, conventional coal, and coal with carbon capture and sequestration were ranked next highest. Waste coal was the lowest-ranked technology.
The survey results also showed that Pennsylvania residents are in favor of increasing the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources, even if such an increase will cost them money. Further, they believed that the costs of achieving this goal should be shared by all Pennsylvania residents.
They indicated that the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) Tier I requirements (Act 213 of 2004) were good policy for the state, and supported increasing the Tier I requirements above what is required by current law.
In terms of social acceptance of renewable energy development and generation in one’s own community, a minority of Pennsylvania residents believed that it would be undesirable to live near a solar or wind energy facility. About 50 percent believed that it would be undesirable to live near a biomass combustion facility.
Even though most Pennsylvania residents are not concerned about the negative aspects of living near renewable energy facilities, a majority of residents believe that citizens do not have adequate opportunity to participate in decisions regarding the siting of renewable energy facilities.
The survey results also found that Pennsylvania residents are willing to pay money to achieve higher renewable electricity production.
Overall, the average household in Pennsylvania was willing to pay $55 per year to increase wind and other renewable production (excluding biomass combustion) by an amount equal to 1 percent of total electricity use in the state, and was willing to pay $42 per year to increase solar generation by the same amount. The average household was not willing to pay anything to increase electricity production from biomass combustion.
For job impacts, the respondents rated natural gas and conventional coal highest, which suggests that the respondents understood the importance of these two resources for employment in the state.
Several common themes emerged from the focus group case studies. One was the idea of “energy independence,” which tended to be the first benefit of renewable energy that participants chose to mention. Another was the participants’ interest in energy efficiency and conservation as an energy strategy deserving greater individual, household, community and state attention. And another was the concern about the general absence of a sound, long-term, comprehensive energy policy at the state or federal level.
Based on the research results, the researchers developed several considerations for policy makers, including the following.
-- Policy makers should consider more non-polluting technologies when developing policies that will affect the mix of energy sources available to Pennsylvania residents;
-- If future modifications of proportional targets in the state’s AEPS are considered, policy makers should consider including more electricity from Tier I type renewable sources; and
-- Concern about the job impacts of the state’s energy policy and tendencies to see natural gas and coal as the energy technologies having the most positive impact on jobs suggest the need for careful and accurate job and workforce projections associated with both renewable and non-renewable energy sector development.
A copy of the report is available online.