It#8217;s easier to talk green than to walk green

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 16, 2007

All the talk about the importance of renewable energy and “going green” is just that — talk.

At least that is how I interpret the results of surveys that attempt to identify consumers’ awareness of “green” energy programs and their likelihood to use them. Surveys that consistently tout strong consumer support for more environmentally-friendly energy choices produce results that are almost exactly opposite actual experience.

This issue is timely because the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee on which I serve is hearing testimony about why the state needs to mandate that some utilities must provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar, or advanced energy such as nuclear and clean coal technology by 2025. The provision is in Senate Bill 221, the governor’s energy bill.

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The startling discrepancy between politically correct comments and consumer behavior was evident last week with the release of the Energy Pulse 2007 survey by the Shelton Group, a marketing and public relations firm based in Knoxville, Tenn., that specializes in bringing energy efficiency and green programs to market.

Findings in Energy Pulse 2007 show consumer interest in utility green power programs continues to grow, and 73 percent believe their utility should provide some of its power from renewable sources. Despite this heightened interest in being “green,” the percentage of consumers who have actually signed up for green power remains flat.

The release goes on to cite a finding from previous Energy Pulse studies that found most consumers are unaware if their utility offers green power.

“It goes back to what everyone in renewable power has long known and Energy Pulse has well documented — that consumers’ behaviors belie their stated intentions and motivations,” Shelton said. “Yes — they say they want to make environmentally responsible choices, but where the rubber meets the road, consumers always hit the same speed bumps: ‘How much extra is it going to cost me?’ and ‘How much is it going to inconvenience me to change what is familiar and comfortable?’.”

Supporters of renewable energy such as wind and solar point to cost trends that show these options are becoming more affordable. Right now most of these options are affordable because of taxpayer subsidies.

Opponents of requiring such a goal say it would cause electricity rates to increase more than they would without the mandate.

I support the need for renewable energy sources and increased energy efficiency. We are doing that at our home. But more of us need to stop talking and start acting if we really mean what we tell the pollsters.

Sen. Tom Niehaus represents Ohio’s 14th District.