"Clean energy should be a mainstream conservative issue," said Mark Flemming, CEO of Conservatives for Clean Energy. He made that statement during the Raleigh-based group's fourth annual polling luncheon last week. The polling data results are clear: North Carolinians want their elected leaders pushing for renewable energy options and they could give a damn about Duke Energy's feelings.
Or, as John Dowdy, a reporter for the Charlotte Business Journal, whispered to Duke Energy's Randy Wheeless, "You guys took a beating in this survey."
According to the data, gathered and analyzed by Strategic Partners Solutions, "Overall support for renewable energy options has remained above 80 percent for the past four years for candidates and lawmakers who encourage such options as wind, solar and waste to energy."
"Anything over 80 percent, when you're doing polling is pretty much universal," said Paul Shoemaker, one of the political consultants presenting the data.
Only a handful of people attended the briefing, but one person who needed to be there actually was: a state legislator. N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley, a Republican representing Mint Hill and Matthews in District 3. In addition to saying that petroleum is "too precious to burn" since we use it to create so many other products, like plastics, he pointed out that when it comes to solar and wind energy, "no one can embargo those."
He's talking about energy independence, folks, hitting on one of the reasons why conservatives are changing their minds about renewable energy. Other reasons, according to Flemming, include choice in competition, private property rights and economics (i.e. money, as in there is some to be made). "Our message is a little different from our friends on the left," he said, adding that it's not about climate change.
Not only do North Carolinians agree that they want cleaner energy, they want more options, too – which is bad news for Duke Energy, the state's regulated monopoly. And that's not all! Overwhelmingly – 87.3 percent, according to the data — voters want lawmakers to provide "ways for homes or business owners to finance energy efficiency upgrades." Like that 35 percent solar tax credit the majority Republican North Carolina General Assembly let lapse in 2015.
Moreover, the data shows little support for the legislature's 18-month moratorium on wind energy projects in 2017, which halted two major projects that were ready to break ground.
The poll, conducted in March via telephone included 600 likely voters split along party lines as such: 32.8 percent Republican, 42.8 percent Democrat and 21.8 percent unaffiliated. About a quarter of the respondents were from Charlotte, and 38.8 percent have lived their entire life in North Carolina.
That last part is important, Shoemakers said. "If you're born and raised in North Carolina you're (likely to be) the most conservative voter in the state."
The survey also included questions about Duke Energy's coal-ash cleanup and the related rate increase, one totaling $202 million dollars and approved of by the N.C. Utilities Commission to cover the company's initial clean up costs through last year. Duke Energy estimates the total clean up bill for it's 30-plus coal-ash sites at 14 of its North Carolina power plants will cost $5 billion.
"Only 8 percent of all voters believe the Utilities Commission did the right thing in allowing Duke Energy to pass along cleanup costs for coal ash retention ponds," read a Power Point slide from the Conservatives for Clean Energy presentation.
What's more, almost 80 percent of those polled indicated they want Duke Energy to face competition in the state's energy marketplace, and, again, almost 80 percent would be more inclined to support legislators that support those new-to-us companies over Duke Energy's wishes to prevent competition.
The long and short of it is that, in North Carolina, Republicans have been getting it wrong on energy policy and voters have noticed. Now, perhaps thanks to this polling data, lawmakers will also take notice, because what I see in these numbers is an opportunity for people of all political stripes to come together on an issue or two, and that's big progress in today's political climate.