The Bulletin

Polling by clean energy group finds support for renewables across partisan lines

By: - August 12, 2021 12:00 am

Solar panels on the roof of Powhatan Elementary School. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

New polling by a conservative group that advocates for clean energy found that more than 60 percent of Virginians support the aims of transitioning the state’s electric grid to clean energy by 2050, cutting fossil fuel pollution and strengthening energy efficiency programs. 

The finding, which sought to determine support for the goals of the Virginia Clean Economy Act even among those not familiar with the landmark environmental legislation, was part of a package of polling released by Conservatives for Clean Energy-Virginia Tuesday. 

The poll was conducted by research and analytics firm co/efficient and surveyed 762 people around the state by phone between July 25 and 27.

“If you listen to the national media, you would think that clean energy was a red versus blue issue,” said Skyler Zunk, a Republican political operative who recently served on Del. Kirk Cox’s failed gubernatorial campaign and is now leading CCE-V’s “Land and Liberty Coalition” project emphasizing landowners’ right to develop renewables on their property. 

However, he said, the group’s polling shows that support for developing clean energy — a term broadly used to refer to wind, solar, storage and sometimes nuclear power — “cuts across lines” politically. 

On the question regarding attitudes toward the aims of the VCEA, 89 percent of self-identified liberals, 68 percent of moderates and 36 percent of conservatives said they supported those goals. Forty-one percent of conservatives said they opposed the aims. 

CCE-V Director Ron Butler, who previously worked for the Republican Party of Virginia and founded Republican direct-mail firm Creative Direct, said the split among conservatives was “fairly close” and showed “conservatives are willing to look at clean energy.” 

The idea that landowners should have the right to put renewables on their property is particularly persuasive to conservatives, said Butler, pointing to agreement by 86 percent of conservatives that “landowners should be allowed to build solar projects because they have a right to decide how to use their land and it’s a clean energy that benefits everyone.” Eighty-eight percent of moderates and 97 percent of liberals agreed with the statement.

Broadly, a majority of respondents said they believed Virginia should put more emphasis on wind, solar, natural gas and nuclear power, and less emphasis on coal. Asked if they would prefer to see a solar project, housing development, industrial park or natural gas plant on 100 acres of land in their locality, 60 percent of respondents chose the solar farm. 

Other polling questions found that climate change was the top reason cited by respondents for supporting the VCEA, followed by “clean energy jobs.” The top reason cited for opposing the law was “climate change is overblown,” followed by concerns about electricity bill increases. 

A question about Virginia’s upcoming gubernatorial race put Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe ahead of Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin 45 to 40 percent. However, respondents only narrowly approved of President Joseph Biden’s performance, and 47 percent said they believed Virginia is on the wrong track.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.