Updated: Jul 10
The issue of energy is hotly debated around the nation—including in the halls of local government. As the federal government incentivizes a shift to green energy, local governments are poised to play a crucial role in the energy transition. Federal initiatives are only one piece of the puzzle, without the implementation efforts from local governments, the transition period will only be prolonged.
Given the necessity of the energy transition, gaining insights into local policymakers’ priorities and preferences regarding electricity, utilities, and renewable energy will help inform the future of energy policy. To better understand these attitudes, CivicPulse conducted a survey of local officials in Pennsylvania, a key transition state, in collaboration with Dr. Holly Caggiano & colleagues of Princeton University and Dr. Sara Constantino at Northeastern University on their views of electric utilities and large-scale energy projects. Pennsylvania is an exemplar state in which to study this topic, considering its history with fossil fuel production, its relative lack of renewable energy sources, and its evenly divided partisan environment.
Unsurprisingly, we found that Democratic and Republican officials exhibit different preferences for Pennsylvania energy projects. Republican officials are more likely to prioritize profit from energy utilities, with 34.5% saying that it is a “very” or “extremely important” consideration, compared to 22.6% of Democrats who say the same. Meanwhile, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to consider carbon emissions, with 80.6% viewing them as ”very” or ”extremely important,” compared to just 26.2% of Republicans. While both parties are concerned with fairness at high rates, a greater proportion of Democrats (93.5%) than Republicans (75.0%) view it as a ”very important” consideration.
Despite the differences between the two parties, there are some considerations that are shared by both parties. Democrats and Republicans nearly unanimously agree that service reliability and costs to ratepayers should be very important considerations for electric utilities.
Additionally, we posed survey respondents with two hypothetical proposed energy projects, varying several different attributes of the projects including the energy source, and asked which they would prefer. We found that the pattern observed in the first part of the survey holds—while there are some stark partisan differences, the parties can see eye-to-eye. Republican officials were less likely to choose solar energy and slightly more likely to opt for nuclear energy, while Democrats desired the opposite. But though most energy sources attracted one party while turning off the other, natural gas plants with carbon capture technology found support among both Democrats and Republicans.
Responses to climate change and America’s ever-changing energy needs necessitate bipartisan collaboration, and carbon capture technology may be the answer. A 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that 84% of U.S. adults support tax credits for businesses developing carbon capture technology, including 90% of Democrats and 78% of Republicans. There is also similar bipartisan support for developing alternatives to energy from fossil fuels—except nuclear, which draws more skepticism. With other clean energy sources sparking more disagreement between both parties and elected officials, local policymakers could turn to carbon capture as a consensus solution.
The research underlying this brief was built on data from a random-sample of 219 elected policymakers in Pennsylvania from local governments (i.e., township, municipality, and county governments) with a population of 1,000 or more. Elected policymakers include top elected officials and governing board members. The survey was developed in collaboration with Dr. Holly Caggiano, Dr. Elke Weber, and Dr. Chris Grieg at Princeton University and Dr. Sara Constantino at Northeastern University and implemented by the CivicPulse Team.
Below are the key survey items used to generate this brief:
Please rate how important you think each of the following considerations should be to electric utilities in Pennsylvania.
Costs to ratepayers
Fair and equitable electricity provision
Not at all important
Not very important
Do you think electric utilities in Pennsylvania currently have too much, too little, or the right amount of political power?
The right amount
Nathan Lee, PhD
Managing Director of CivicPulse