Energy issues matter to Vermonters, two polls show

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Energy issues matter to Vermonters, two polls show

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 7:59am -- tim

by John Herrick The vast majority of Vermonters want to use less fossil fuel for their energy needs, but the cost to reduce one’s carbon footprint is a challenge, according to a survey the Energy Action Network released last week. The Energy Action Network is launching an initiative designed to promote ways residents can turn strongly held beliefs about climate change into action, the group says. Andrea Colnes, executive director of the network, said her organization will create a website designed to show Vermonters how shifting from fossil fuels and to cleaner energy is doable and affordable. This includes home retrofits that could save more heat, installing efficient electric heat pumps and making the switch to electric vehicles, among other solutions, she said.

“Something the average Vermonter can understand and make happen,” Colnes said.

Energy Action Network hired the Castleton Polling Institute to survey more than 600 residents across the state last month. The results include:

• 90 percent of Vermonters agree that changing the state’s energy system is important;

• 74 percent agree that this change should occur as quickly as possible;

• 79 percent agree that this change is possible through energy efficiency and switching to renewable sources of energy;

• 84 percent agree that changing Vermont’s energy system will make a difference;

• 58 percent say the biggest challenge to switching to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency is cost.

The new Green Mountain Power solar farm in Rutland County. GMP, like AllEarth Renewables CEO David Blittersdorf, has developed and supported both local solar and wind generation projects. Courtesy photos.

The poll is not designed to be comprehensive or tailored to specific energy issues, Colnes said. Instead, it will be used to guide the group’s initiative this summer and as a benchmark for progress.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, who is not associated with the poll, said the state should transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy use in a manner with the support of the communities most impacted by renewable energy development.

The Vermont Legislature has instituted policies that fast-track regulatory review of large-scale energy projects despite mounting opposition from local communities that would host the projects. Much of Vermont’s renewable power is sold out of state in the form of renewable energy credits.

“I think if we don’t put the brakes on and take a look at how we’re doing this, we are going to be creating more opposition,” Smith said. “They’re continuing to allow not only the destruction of our neighbors’ communities and towns, but also the environment.”

Developers, utilities, landowners and advocacy groups should come together to discuss the impacts of renewable energy development on land use, aesthetics and public health through a community engagement process, she said.

She said policies should encourage small-scale renewable energy projects that generate power closer to where it is consumed rather than utility-scale projects that feed power into the region’s electric grid.

To conduct the survey, the Castleton Polling Institute interviewed 608 respondents after selection from a random list of landline and cellphone numbers. Each county in the state was proportionally represented in the sample.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group earlier this month released another survey showing Vermont residents overwhelmingly support the state’s renewable energy goals. The poll sends a message to prospective candidates in this year’s elections that Vermonters care about cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the group says.

“If you’re a candidate running for office in Vermont, you would do well to keep in mind the strong opinions of voters here about the problem of climate change and the benefits of clean energy,” VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns said this month after the poll was released.

VPIRG contracted with the California-based public opinion firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates to conduct its April survey of 600 Vermont voters. The highlights include:

• 71 percent support building wind turbines along the state’s ridgelines;

• 86 percent support the state’s goal to source 90 percent of its energy from renewables by 2050, and 83 percent support taking action now on this goal;

• 72 percent view candidates more favorably who view advancing energy efficiency, clean energy and action on climate change as central to their work in the Legislature;

• 93 percent of Democrats view more favorably candidates who support renewable energy and energy efficiency, as compared to 69 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans.

VERY TOP PHOTO: Dedication of the Georgia Mountain Community Wind project in June 2013.