Monday, June 22, 2015

Popular Bipartisan Support for Federal Renewable Energy Policies

By Nick Lawton, Staff Attorney
A recent study by Cass Sunstein at Harvard Law School, Which Nudges Do People Like?, revealed popular bi-partisan support for hypothetical federal policies that promote adoption of renewable energy. The study focused on “nudges,” or “interventions that preserve freedom of choice but that nonetheless influence people’s decisions.” Professor Sunstein described the study in a recent New York Times op-ed, noting that “most Americans approve of these reforms and want more of them.” For me, the most noteworthy result is that federal interventions to promote utility sales of renewable energy attract strong bipartisan support.

Professor Sunstein’s study examined two closely related renewable energy “nudges” (along with many other topics). The survey first asked whether respondents would support a federal policy to encourage, but not require, electricity providers to automatically enroll customers in a “green” power purchasing program that customers could opt out of. The survey also asked whether respondents would support the federal government requiring electricity providers to adopt the same automatic enrollment in green power purchasing.

A majority of respondents supported both hypothetical policies, although federal encouragement received stronger support than a federal requirement. 72% of respondents favored federal encouragement for utilities to adopt automatic enrollment in green power purchasing, while only 67% favored a federal requirement for the same type of program. Interestingly, majorities of respondents in both parties supported each policy: 82% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans supported federal encouragement, while 79% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans supported a federal requirement.

These findings echo those from a University of Michigan study I blogged about a few weeks ago, which showed strong support for state-level Renewable Portfolio Standards. Together, these studies show strong support for policies to promote renewable energy at both the state level and the federal level. Elected officials should take heed.  

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