Poll: Minnesotans love renewable energy until they don’t

The latest Thinking Minnesota Poll reveals that Minnesotans love renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar panels. Unfortunately, the poll also demonstrated there is a wide gap between what Minnesotans believe about renewable energy sources and their knowledge of the true costs involved.

The poll conducted between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2 found that once the public learns the real costs of renewable energy sources, their support for these sources diminishes drastically. That’s because in order to achieve the results promised by lofty sounding proposals like Gov. Tim Walz’s “Green New Deal,” Minnesotans would have to sacrifice their money, their values, their land and most importantly, their comfort knowing we won’t experience blackouts in the middle of a polar vortex.

Minnesotans don’t understand the environmental benefits of nuclear energy

The poll began by asking respondents to rank the environmental impacts of different energy sources.  Their answers provided a clue to the disconnect between people’s beliefs about energy and the actual facts. While Minnesotans gave high marks to both solar (67 percent) and wind (59 percent), only 21 percent of respondents rated nuclear energy as very good for the environment, ranking it just ahead of coal.

In fact, nuclear energy is the cleanest source of energy for the environment, emitting zero emissions and using far fewer raw materials than other energy sources. Concerns about spent nuclear fuel storage apparently cloud our collective judgment on the safety and environmental benefits of nuclear power.

“Minnesotans need to realize that all human activities impact the environment, whether through manufacturing, mining, or even tourism,” said Isaac Orr, Policy Fellow for Energy and the Environment at American Experiment. “We can’t have a real discussion on energy policy until we first recognize that each energy source has a cost, from construction to decommissioning.”

Ironically, while Minnesotans don’t seem to understand the environmental benefits of nuclear energy, 53 percent do support the construction of new nuclear power plants in Minnesota, as long as they pass a rigorous permitting process. Doing so would require the legislature to lift the current ban on even considering new nuclear plants.

Even more ironically, only six percent of Democrats believe nuclear energy is good for the environment and 55 percent oppose the construction of nuclear power plants in Minnesota.

“Democrats rate the environment as the top issue facing the state while simultaneously opposing the cleanest sources of energy — it makes no sense,” added Orr.

Support for Walz Green New Deal falls once true costs are known

Walz’ plan to require 100 percent of Minnesota’s energy to come from carbon-free sources such as wind and solar received initial support from almost 60 percent of respondents. But that support falls fast when respondents saw some of the true costs of Walz’s plan.

First, Minnesotans (including Walz) have no idea about the amount of metal needed to accomplish his goal of 100 percent renewables, and more importantly where that metal will ultimately come from. Fully 79 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to support the plan when they realized most of the metal would come from third world mining operations employing child labor.

According to Orr, “decarbonizing” Minnesota would require four percent of the global annual production of copper, 18 percent of global nickel production, and 164 percent of global annual cobalt production.

“We hear a lot about following the science — when it comes to the environment, that means asking the tough questions about the real costs of each source of energy,” added John Hinderaker, President of Center of the American Experiment. “These Green New Deal proposals literally fall under their own weight when you properly consider the amount of metal needed to accomplish their goals.”

Respondents also reacted negatively when they were told we rely on China for the majority of the metals needed for wind turbines, solar panels and batteries. Sixty-five percent said they would be less likely to support a plan that relied so heavily on China for raw materials.

Support for wind and solar also wanes significantly when respondents considered the threat of blackouts like those experienced in Texas and California recently. Sixty-one percent of Minnesotans dropped their support for renewable energy mandates once they considered the risk of blackouts.

And what about financial cost? How much are Minnesotans willing to spend each year to reduce carbon dioxide emissions? The poll discovered that 80 percent of Minnesotans would be unwilling to pay more than $500 per year to support such a plan. Our energy prices have already skyrocketed past the national average just to comply with Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s modest 25 percent renewable mandate enacted in 2007. The cost to Minnesota families for a 100 percent mandate will far exceed $500 per year.

Minnesotans skeptical about the benefits of renewable energy

Even if the state accomplished the elements of a Green New Deal, Minnesotans remain skeptical of the amount of warming it could prevent. Fully 46 percent of respondents believe less than one degree of warming would be avoided by the year 2100 if Minnesota moved to one hundred percent renewable energy.

The Thinking Minnesota Poll is a quarterly survey conducted for Center of the American Experiment by Meeting Street Insights, a Charleston, South Carolina-based polling company. For this report, Meeting Street interviewed 500 Minnesotans between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2. It has a margin of error of ±4.38 percent.