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Shining a light

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Education attitudes were highlighted most strongly in this year’s release of the Boise State University Public Policy Survey, which polls Idahoans on what they think about what’s happening in their state.

But a section toward the back of the survey, on a different subject, seems just as notable.

In the Energy and the Environment section, a pull quote noted this: “Currently, a majority of the energy developed in Idaho comes from clean sources, such as renewable energy, that do not use fossil-fuels.”

That sentence alone might take many Idahoans by surprise, since much of political energy in the state has been (for a long time) supportive of fossil fuels, and the headlines about oil and gas drilling at Payette County have gotten a lot of attention. Less attention may have gone to the headlines from last summer
that of the 18 wells drilled there, 10 had been shut down, and no drilling permits were pending.

The pull quote was right. A massive amount of Idaho electric power production long has been developed through hydropower – just ask Idaho Power about that – while the other long-time power component – coal-fired, based out of state – has been in retreat as a key factor. Meanwhile, wind and solar have been galloping ahead. One of the recent big and deserved news stories in that area concerns a new massive solar power field in the desert lands near Jackpot.

Idaho is a serious renewable power state, probably among the leading clean-energy production states anywhere in the country.

How many Idahoans know that is unclear; probably a distinct minority. And the Boise State study didn’t (to judge from its release statement) get at that.

But nevertheless it did say this: “68.5% of Idahoans responded that they either strongly or somewhat favored the state transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2050, and 24.9% opposed this goal.”

I’d be interested in knowing a lot more about the quarter of respondents in Idaho who opposed the goal. You could understand the concern in, say, coal country, where fossil fuel development is locally important to the economy. But why would Idaho have any interest in standing in the way of the trend? Idaho is not a major producer of coal, oil, or gas.

The numbers shift, as you might imagine they would, when the question gets at support for the transition “if it meant an increase in your power bill?” The worst-case scenario bumps up the negatives against clean energy to 40 percent.

But generally, attitudes among Idahoans are strongly favorable toward clean energy, and toward almost all kinds of it.

One question asked, “If Idaho increases its use of local, renewable energy, there are a
variety of possible sources of this energy . Do you favor or oppose increasing our use of the following sources” – and more than three-fourths of Idahoans said they support solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. Solar actually seemed to be the most popular, reflected in strong support (more than 90 percent) for credits on electricity bills when people connect their residential solar units to the grid.

Not a lot of all this popular support tends to be reflected in the Idaho legislature, and that’s a trend you see reflected across a number of subject areas across many annual iterations of the BSU Idaho surveys.

The reasons for that might be worth some survey inquiry in future years.
 

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