Although most Americans support increased energy conservation measures and alternatives, 53 percent do not think a solution to the country's energy problems will be found in their lifetime and nearly 80 percent reject the suggestion that high energy costs are temporary and will go away, according to a nationwide survey of 1,001 Americans released June 5 by RBC Capital Markets.

The survey, released in conjunction with RBC Capital Markets' annual Energy Conference being held this week in Boston, also found that consumers want more immediate measures to address the country's energy issues and are open to change to protect the environment.

"While somewhat surprising that a majority of Americans feel that a solution to our energy problems will not be reached in their lifetime, the high prices we have seen over the past year are finally causing some changes in behavior and impacting the demand for traditional energy products like diesel and gasoline," said RBC Capital Markets' analyst Joe Allman.

Seven in 10 Americans said they would consider a hybrid when purchasing their next vehicle. And more than half (52 percent) believe that people who buy and drive a hybrid car should be given tax breaks, while 44 percent believe that a tax should be levied on those who drive SUVs or other gas-guzzling vehicles not required to perform their jobs. Sixty-one percent said they would rather pay more for cleaner fuels than pay less for fuels that pollute.

A desire for action

A full 91 percent agree or strongly agree that steps need to be taken to dramatically increase energy conservation programs and implement incentives to develop and use alternative energy sources. And this view will be expressed at polling stations across the country: 84 percent of Americans say they will consider a candidate's position on energy issues the next time they vote, vs. 52 percent who considered this issue when voting in 2004.

When asked if the U.S. government should step in and provide financial incentives to coal-fired power plant operators so they can retrofit existing plants to make them cleaner, 83 percent of Americans agreed. Seventy-one percent said they favor the building of coal-fired power plants provided they are environmentally friendly and nearly one-third (31 percent) of those polled say they would support the building of a clean coal technology plant in their own hometown.

Three quarters of those surveyed (77 percent) recognize that solar and wind power needs U.S. government support to be viable energy sources, and eight out of 10 believe the government should ensure that wind terminals are placed along federal highways or roadways.

Wind terminals and solar plants (60 percent and 64 percent, respectively) are by far the most accepted by Americans when they are asked what energy-producing facilities they would accept in their hometown. And Americans clearly see offshore drilling as a possible solution. More than three quarters (77 percent) believe restrictions to drill for oil off the Atlantic coast should be lifted "as long as every effort is made to protect the environment."

Although three-quarters of those surveyed recognize that the U.S. has the necessary cropland to produce enough ethanol to replace imported oil, more than half (55 percent) of respondents say they would remove tariffs and trade barriers on ethanol produced in other countries so that U.S. consumers could have ready access to this alternative energy source. Close to seven in 10 (67 percent) Americans understood that Americans could save 10 billion gallons of gasoline each year by using ethanol to replace imported oil.

More energy education needed

The survey suggests that energy conservation and alternatives could be implemented more swiftly with more education about options:

    -  One in three don't know that significant gas savings can be achieved

       by using ethanol without any vehicle modifications or taxpayer

       subsidies

    -  One in three think they will see a UFO before their car runs on

       ethanol

 

To help address the issue, 65 per cent say that the U.S. government should require states to include energy conservation instruction as part of driver education classes.

 

"With the percentage of voters with energy issues on their minds increasing, the survey highlights the opportunity for the U.S. government to adopt a much more aggressive and comprehensive energy policy," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Kurt Hallead. "In general, the interest in new energy technologies is part of our thesis that what was once considered 'alternative' sources of energy supply are on the verge of becoming mainstream.

"It is also promising that most voters would approve lifting the offshore drilling moratorium as this has been a major source of conflict within the Senate. However, the one disappointing fact is the American public still does not understand that new refinery capacity in the US is a necessity for increasing gasoline supplies and bringing down prices at the pump."

Building close to home

Three quarters of Americans said they would accept some sort of plant or energy producing facility in their hometown. Of the one-quarter who said they would not accept any kind of facility in their backyard, including the options of solar plants and wind terminals, that group's views varied significantly from the majority of those willing to have at least one form of energy producing facility in their hometown. The one in four group (NIMBYs):

    -  Were less interested in candidates' positions on energy issues in

       2004 (43 percent vs 54 percent) and less motivated to learn about

       these positions the next time they vote (76 percent vs 87 percent)

    -  Were more likely to believe that high energy costs are temporary and

       will go away (30 percent vs 18 percent)

    -  Are comprised mainly of women (67 percent). Women are much more

       leery of nuclear power, with 65 percent saying that this energy

       source scares them, compared to 33 percent of men. Men would rather

       have a nuclear power plant (32 percent) in their hometown than an

       oil refinery (25 percent). For women, nuclear power is last.

 

"Coal as an energy option should be explored more and talked about more, particularly the technologies available today that can make coal plants more environmentally friendly," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Scott Hanold. "The U.S. is one of the largest coal-reserve holders in the world and Americans cite coal as the energy option they would prefer after solar and wind and before oil and nuclear in their hometowns."