At the American Wind Energy Association's big convention in the spring of 2009, a couple of guys from a "consulting" firm made a presentation of the results of a survey it conducted of a "demographically representative sample of 1,239 American adults (18+) based on U.S. Census data for age, ethnicity, gender, region and income." The survey determined, "A majority of Americans oppose new high-voltage transmission lines in their community, but that opposition drops precipitously to 17% if those lines are delivering clean, renewable energy from wind. Support for new transmission lines leaps from just 46% to 83% when respondents are asked specifically about high-voltage transmission lines delivering wind power." It must have been one hell of a presentation.
Now I can't say for certain whether Michael Skelly personally flew into WindPower 2009 (or maybe he took a train, I'm sure he doesn't remember), or whether he attended this amazing presentation. But it is certain that later that same year Clean Line Energy Partners, LLC, registered its business in several states. Clean Line's business was to "develop" transmission lines delivering wind power across private property in multiple states. Did Michael Skelly actually develop a business plan based on a public opinion survey of 1,239 people? Maybe some day a reporter will ask him that question.
More than $200M has been wagered on this public opinion survey of 1,239 people. Maybe Clean Line told its investors...
...the new results are a clear sign that Americans support cleaner, renewable power and that it has carried over to the distribution of that power through their own backyard.
High-voltage transmission lines generate some of the most adamant NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) opposition in the country. That such a large percentage of people are willing to allow green lines in their community says a lot about the awareness and importance of renewable energy and climate change issues in addition to the education efforts undertaken by the renewable energy industry.
Was that survey really supposed to be taken literally to mean that landowners would jump at a chance to have a renewable energy transmission line in their own backyard? I'm thinking not. A less myopic view of the survey/presentation says the point being made here was not that landowners would support renewable transmission lines, but highlighted the "awareness and importance of renewable energy and climate change issues in addition to the education efforts undertaken by the renewable energy industry." This was more about the wind energy industry congratulating itself on the greenwashing of America, and making renewable energy the darling of political dreams. It wasn't really about renewable energy at all, but the mere idea of it used to score political brownie points. People love the idea of renewable energy!
Well, until it shows up in their own backyard. And then they hate it. And they really hate it when eminent domain becomes a tool to advance renewable energy.
Just a week after the press party on the release of its amazing survey, even the presenters backtracked to say that their survey wasn't to be taken literally.
Polling indicates the public’s feelings about a number of various topics on any given day. But it can also be misleading if viewed out of context — especially when it comes to land use issues.
How is it, for example, that most Americans support wind energy in general, but emotive opponents can block transmission lines delivery wind energy or wind farms in some local communities?
So, the jury’s in, right? Everyone loves renewable energy projects. But wait.
But the emotional opposition appears to fly in the face of surveys and polls showing national support for clean energy generation and transmission. What’s going on? Do these polls and surveys lack credibility? No. In fact, they are spot-on in terms of reflecting how Americans feel about renewable generation and distribution projects and how they may positively impact our communities given the perceived global threats of climate change, greenhouse gases and negative impact to wildlife over time. Today, based on a solid campaign by climate change advocates, the renewable energy industry, the current Obama administration and constant media pounding, the threat to our economy and the environment posed by carbon-emitting generation sources is very real and frankly easy to grasp. The arguments have been made and, let’s face it, many Americans are buying in.
But it’s easy to support a wind energy project without a real wind turbine or transmission line literally staring you in the face. That’s where rational thinking ends and passionate “defense of the community” (or defense of the children for that matter) campaigns begin.
...shop for a home in a community of interest and share the rumor of a new 765 kV transmission line going across the property down the road, in front of the view of the mountain range. What’s the survey say then? Chances are you may not find majority support, even from residents who responded in the poll you fielded yesterday.
Perhaps at best, polling identifies the size of the silent majority you have on your side when they are under no local threat of changing their daily lives. Winning hearts and minds in a poll won’t necessarily win you a permit at town hall.
Renewable energy is great in our public opinion, just not when it gets in the way of our personal point of view.
What a colossal mistake. With more than 2,000 miles of new electric transmission "under development" Clean Line invaded the personal spaces of thousands of affected landowners. And then they used the threat of eminent domain in an attempt to coerce landowners to agree to make a willing sacrifice in the name of "renewable energy" (and investor profit). It ticked off "a bunch of farmers." "A bunch of farmers" aka "some landowners" are the biggest reason Clean Line failed. Without their fierce opposition, determination, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own personal funds, Clean Line could be fully permitted. But it's not.
Lesson: Never tick off a farmer.
Secondary Lesson: Public opinion surveys are notoriously wrong. Just ask Hillary Clinton...