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In this age of energy transformation, the role of public opinion is clear. Although it does not make or break a particular energy source itself, it can serve as a reliable barometer for the future.
A case in point is the surging popular support of renewable power, which has mirrored the rapid growth of the nation’s renewable industries. On the other hand, every ascent has its declines, and the emergence of renewables is no exception.
According to a recent study by the Washington D.C.-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the public’s energy priorities have changed. While renewables still enjoy more support than oil and gas, that gap has narrowed.
The study, which was conducted in early March, finds that 52 percent of respondents believe the more important priority for addressing the nation’s energy supply is to develop alternative sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology. Only 39 percent see expanding the exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas as the greater priority.
While proponents of alternative power may applaud this statistic, the study notes that, one year ago, the margin was much wider. Then, 63 percent favored renewables, and 29 percent favored fossil fuels.
According to the Pew Research Center, the change in attitudes is caused by external events. It identifies rising gas prices as one of the primary culprits. Simply put, people think more drilling will lower prices. The study also notes that support for oil and gas plummeted after the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster, but now that support has recovered to prespill levels. The public also shows tendencies of short-term memory loss with respect to other sources of power. In a similar pattern, support for promoting the increased use of nuclear power dipped after last year’s Japan nuclear disaster. This year, that support has also recovered, although modestly.
Proponents of alternative energy need not despair. Support for renewables is still strong. For example, the study finds that 69 percent of respondents favor more federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology.