Rural Electric Cooperatives - Perceptions and Trends

Goals

To identify trends and public perception of rural electric cooperatives, coal, and renewable energy for the purposes of developing a PR campaign to change the narrative about cooperatives and coal-based energy.

Early Findings

Preliminary research indicates there is an abundance of information on public perceptions of coal and renewable energy. There is also significant information on trends in the coal industry that will impact rural electric cooperatives.

PERCEPTIONS ON COAL

  • A 2017 survey found that Americans are "rapidly turning against coal."
  • Americans are still skeptical about using natural gas, but overall 48% of Americans either somewhat support or strongly support a "purposeful phaseout of coal."
  • Only 20% strongly oppose a phaseout of coal and another 14% somewhat oppose the idea.
  • The percentage of people who strongly support a phaseout of coal jumped from 18% in 2016 to 29% in 2017.
  • Even in states where there are active coal mines, Americans increasing their support for a phaseout of coal, as overall support increased by 9% between 2016 and 2017.
  • In addition, among Republicans, who traditionally support the coal industry, strong opposition to phasing out coal fell by 14%.
  • Public support for "clean coal" has also fallen, tumbling 15% over a 10-year-period, while strong opposition increased by 9% over that same period.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found that "65% of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy sources, compared with 27% who would emphasize expanded production of fossil fuel sources."

PERCEPTIONS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

  • According to a survey conducted by market research firm Maslansky & Partners, 74% of respondents "think we should use solar as much as possible."
  • In addition, 70% of respondents "agree that in the near future, we should produce 100% of our electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
  • Even more astounding is that 51% of respondents believe that "100 percent renewables is a good idea even if it raises their energy bills by 30 percent."
  • Another study found that public support for renewable energy "appears broader than acceptance of anthropogenic climate change."
  • In addition, support for renewable energy is rising faster than climate change acceptance, even in conservative regions.

TRENDS

  • Electric cooperatives' "retail fuel mix nationwide is trending toward natural gas and renewable energy resources and away from coal-based generation as costs and regulations boost lower-emission energy sources."
  • Lower natural gas prices, coal power plant retirements, and lower renewable energy costs are responsible for the reduction in coal for electric cooperatives.
  • Coal's share of cooperatives' electricity production was at 41% in 2016, compared to 54% in 2014.
  • Renewable energy mandates in 29 states, along with federal subsidies for renewable energy have "driven the growth of renewable resources nationwide and at cooperatives."
  • One reason behind the decline in American support for coal is the "emergence of the U.S. as a global superpower of natural gas production."
  • The rise of "other viable power sources demonstrates coal is no longer the player in the national psyche as it has been in the past."
  • Americans under the age of 50 are more likely to support (73%) alternative energy sources over expanding fossil fuels. However, a higher percentage of people over the age of 50 (59% of people ages 50-64 and 50% of people ages 65+) still think expanding alternative energy sources is more important than expanding fossil fuels.
  • The retirement of coal plants is accelerating because they are becoming "increasingly uneconomical."
  • In 2018, "70 percent of coal capacity in the U.S. had a higher running cost than renewables, and by 2030, that number is expected to reach 100 percent."
  • Domestic coal consumption fell 4% between 2017 and 2018, and 2018's consumption represented the lowest amount in 39 years.
  • On the other hand, coal exports increased by 61% in 2017 and are expected to continue to increase as demand for U.S. coal remain high due to the increased demand for electricity in other countries.
  • In addition to this public search, we scanned our proprietary research database of over 1 million sources and were unable to find any specific research reports that address your goals.

Proposed next steps:

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