As published on January 6, 2020 in Morning Consult
American consumers have a choice every time they purchase a product or service. Whether it’s where to go for dinner, which movie to watch, or what present to buy someone for a birthday, the freedom to choose is built into the design of our retail economy.
Except when it comes to electricity.
Most states have laws in place that restrict who can generate and sell power. In regulated states, consumers have no choice but to purchase electricity from their local utility and little say over how that power is generated.
According to a new national survey released by the Conservative Energy Network, the ability to buy energy on an open market from a supplier other than the old monopoly utility — energy choice — is a priority for a majority of Americans.
Eighty-seven percent of voters said they support more competition in electricity markets that would allow people to choose where they buy their power. Among Republicans, support for giving consumers the freedom to purchase electricity and related services directly from entrepreneurs in the private sector is even higher: 91 percent.
It’s no surprise that conservatives who put a premium on individual freedom would also support the right to energy choice. What may come as a surprise, though, is the fact that support for renewable energy crosses party lines, with strong support for wind and solar power among even core Trump voters. That’s true even though the poll showed continued skepticism over climate change as a political issue among the same group.
Voters clearly like policies that help reduce the environmental impacts of their energy use without making energy more expensive.
This is the fourth-consecutive National Clean Energy Survey that CEN has conducted, the results of which have consistently shown that Republicans support renewable energy but reject the use of taxes or other centralized policies that limit the role of the consumer and the market.
The poll found that 70 percent of voters, regardless of political affiliation, support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The same number said they preferred policies that empower markets and businesses to provide more clean energy compared to mandates or quotas. Only 26 percent of respondents said they preferred the government to set minimum requirements for renewable energy usage.
That should put to rest once and for all the notion that Republicans oppose clean energy. Instead, they reject bad ideas that increase energy costs, stifle innovation and grow the role of government.
Over 80 percent of respondents said they believe accelerating the growth of clean energy would bring economic development and good-paying jobs.
Americans of all political stripes want to be identified as leaders in the development and use of clean energy. However, the poll shows that voters are wary of big government programs and centralized solutions. According to the CEN poll, 72 percent of Republicans reject the idea of a new tax system that would reward low-carbon emitters and penalize high-carbon emitters. The number of Republicans opposed to a government tax jumps to 82 when specifically asked about a carbon tax.
At the same time, about 80 percent of respondents said they support increasing government investment in innovation and the development of technology, including advancing battery storage technology crucial to increasing the amount of renewable energy used in power generation.
The results confirm what we’ve long known. The government has a role to play in encouraging innovation in the research and development of advanced energy technologies, but when it comes to choosing which energy sources to deploy, consumers want to take the reins.
Thankfully, advances in digital technology are putting the power to understand and manage electricity use in the palms of consumers. As a result, consumers across the country are demanding a greater voice in their energy use, including the ability to source cleaner, renewable energy.
Without meaningful competition, though, consumers have little influence over the energy used to power their lives. It’s little wonder then that calls for energy choice are going up from Florida to Arizona.
Clean energy is an important issue for almost all voters in November, but just as important is the approach politicians take to encourage the transition to a renewable energy future. Market-oriented solutions that deliver energy that is more affordable, abundant and cleaner are policies that Republicans and Democrats alike can support.
Energy choice is a winner.
Robert Dillon is a senior fellow, energy at the Joseph Rainey Center and executive director of the Energy Choice Coalition, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that supports greater competition in electricity markets.