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A Bright Future for Renewable Energy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The VCU Wilder School Office of Research and Outreach
April 10, 2023

Headlines are regularly dominated by stories of climate change, fossil fuels, renewable energy options and the debates that go hand-in-hand with these topics. Opinions on how, if at all, to address climate change and energy use can be contentious and multi-faceted. In working to address these issues, policymakers must aim to better understand both the science behind different types of energies as well as the perspectives of their constituents. To gain this understanding, they may ask questions such as “which energy source is best?,” “what does the public think about using renewable resources rather than fossil fuels?” and “how strongly do they hold these opinions?”

According to the January 2023 Commonwealth Poll conducted by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, 60 percent of Virginians agreed that the commonwealth should transition away from fossil fuels and move toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Looking at the demographic breakdowns, almost 90 percent of Democrats supported the transition from fossil fuels in Virginia, while only 29 percent of Republicans said that they would support moving toward renewable energy. Over 75 percent of African Americans supported the transition to renewable energy, while 57 percent of whites showed support. A transition to renewal energy was also generally more popular among younger individuals, with seven in 10 respondents aged 18 to 34 saying that they supported the renewable energy transition. Conversely, slightly less than half of those respondents aged 55 and older said that they would rather see the commonwealth maintain its utilization of fossil fuels.

The Commonwealth Poll obtained landline and mobile telephone interviews from December 3 to December 16, 2022, with a representative sample of 807 adults living in Virginia. It had a margin of error of 6.02 percent. Statistical results were weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. A two-stage weighting procedure was used to weight this dual-frame sample by the demographic characteristics of gender, age, education, race, ethnicity, Hispanic origin, region of residence and personal phone use.

Findings from the January 2023 Commonwealth Poll matched those of nationwide polls. In January 2022, a poll from the Pew Research Center found that the majority of Americans felt that the development of renewable energy sources (e.g. wind energy and solar energy) should be prioritized; the majority also favored a transition to becoming completely carbon neutral by the year 2050.

However, only 31 percent of participants in Pew Research Center poll said that they thought the United States should completely phase out fossil fuel use. Instead, the majority (67 percent) said that they favored the country using a combination of fossil fuels and renewable resources. This poll also found, as was the case in Virginia, renewable energy was typically favored more by Democrats and younger individuals.

In light of the generally positive public opinion toward reducing fossil fuel use and instead focusing on renewable energy sources, several renewable energy bills were introduced to Virginia’s General Assembly in 2023. These included:

  • House Joint Resolution 545: Asking the Department of Energy to recommend methods of overcoming barriers to purchasing clean energy for local governments and their constituents
  • House Bill 1852 / Senate Bill 848: Directing the Commission on School Construction and Modernization to create recommendations on strategies to assist interested schools with  incorporating renewable energy generation facilities in the construction or renovation of school buildings
  • Senate Bill 949: Allowing residents to access low-cost public financing of clean energy
  • Senate Bill 1333: Facilitating local clean energy projects for low-income and moderate-income residents
  • Senate Bill 1419: Allowing retail choice in renewable energy purchasing

While none of these bills ended up passing, it seems likely that we’ll continue to see similar bills introduced in Virginia and beyond as interest in renewable energy stays strong. At the federal level, several initiatives aimed at lowering the cost of energy, mitigating the impacts of climate change (and combating climate change) and advancing environmental justice are taking place. For example, the White House is budgeting to create jobs aimed at building clean energy infrastructure, investing in clean and low-cost energy in rural communities, supporting clean energy projects at tribal colleges and universities, upgrading drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and more.

By listening to their constituents, consulting polls such as the ones referred to in these articles and staying up-to-date on the latest developments in renewable energy, policymakers at all levels can help to ensure that renewable energy remains a strong option for our future.

Author: The Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy advances research and training that informs public policy and decisionmaking to improve our communities. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, we provide services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in governments, nonprofits, businesses and the public, across Virginia and beyond. Twitter: @VCUWilderSchool

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