Americans favor alternative energy methods to solve shortages
by Mark Gillespie
merica's energy concerns of the past year have been overshadowed by the events of Sept. 11 and the attacks on Afghanistan. However, the memories of electricity shortages, and $2-a-gallon gasoline, apparently remain strong for many. A new Gallup poll shows widespread support for investment in the nation's energy infrastructure, including the construction of new power generation plants and development of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power.
Public sees need for new power plants
During the spring of 2001, electricity grids around the nation struggled to meet demand. While some analysts blame utility deregulation for the supply problems, many Americans saw a need for new power plants. A May 7-9 Gallup poll found that 83% of Americans favored investing in new power generation plants, and the most recent poll, conducted Nov. 8-11, found no appreciable change.
However, the public's desire to increase the electricity supply by the use of nuclear power has slipped over the last six months. In the latest poll, 42% support increased use of nuclear power - compared to 48% in the May poll. This may well be linked to the events of Sept. 11, which pointed out the potential vulnerability of nuclear power facilities to terrorist attacks.
Additionally, the poll shows continued near-universal support for development of alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, and fuel cell technology. Nine out of 10 Americans (91%) expressed their favor for investments in alternative power sources in both polls this year.
As gas prices drop, support for energy-efficient vehicles slides
In May, when gas prices were peaking at nearly $2.00 per gallon in many parts of the country, 85% of Americans supported mandates that future cars be more energy-efficient. Now that prices at the pump have declined in many cities, there seems to be a slight drop in that level of support. In the Nov. 8-11 poll, 77% expressed support for mandated energy-efficient automobiles.
The Sept. 11 attacks highlighted America's potential vulnerability incurred by dependence on foreign sources of oil. Still, there has been only a slight increase in support for one of President Bush's top energy priorities - opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil exploration. Supporters argue that the possible oil reserves in the refuge could help reduce America's dependence on imported oil for many years, while critics claim that the environmental impact does not justify the perceived benefits.
By a slight majority, the American public continues to oppose opening ANWR to oil exploration. However, that opposition has been falling slightly, and now stands at a mere 51% majority. By way of comparison, a slightly higher 57% opposed exploration in the refuge in the May Gallup poll, and 56% opposed it in a March 5-7 Gallup poll. Interestingly, opposition is strongest in the East (55%) and the West (54%), despite the expected use of ANWR oil to help increase gasoline supplies on the West Coast.
These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 512 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Nov. 8-11, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.