Renewables? Fossil Fuels? Americans Want Both.

by Steve Haner

Given a choice between an energy future that is dependent on a) generation using sun, wind or falling water; or b) thermal generation sources using fossil fuels or uranium; or c) a combination of both, which do Americans prefer? Should it surprise anybody that the answer is both?

Reliance on both, the need for at least a substantial amount of electricity not depending on weather, is at the heart of the recommendations coming at Virginians from many directions. It came recently from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, including the Virginian on that panel, Mark Christie. It is the premise for both Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s (R) 2022 Energy Plan and Dominion Energy Virginia’s new integrated resource plan.

The message is being disputed by advocates for the rapid retirement of existing coal and natural gas generation, many of whom are (sadly) also strongly anti-nuclear. But a recent poll shared with the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy indicates the message of maintaining traditional baseload strongly resonates. It does so across party lines.

The American people are receptive to the message because they already believe that fossil fuels will continue to be around, and surprising percentages of them would like to see their use expanded. The number of Americans dubious of reaching the poorly defined target of “net zero” by 2050 – a shibboleth among Democrats — is higher than the percentage who believe it possible.

A recent poll by Hearts + Minds Strategies of Reston, with the Thomas Jefferson Institute an invited listener to the discussion (watch it in full or read a summary here), underscores this assertion. This was not a confab of climate catastrophe skeptics. Quite the opposite.

Its polling found a large majority (72%) of Americans, even 69% of identified liberals, want the U.S. to be energy independent. Asked whether they wanted traditional energy sources, renewable, or both, 64% said both and 23% said traditional only. Only about 1 in 8 respondents favored pure renewable.

That bears repeating. Of the 1,000 polled, 87% favored either full reliance on thermal generation or some combination of traditional and renewable generation. Only 13% favored renewables exclusively. The rigid Democratic positions of “green only” are in response to just a subset of their own core voters.

Looking at various energy sources, solar and wind were the most popular, with oil and coal the least popular. But 67% favor either expansion or retention of natural gas, with only 19% advocating its retirement. A quarter of Democrats favor gas expansion. Nuclear power’s support remains soft, with only 25% favoring expansion and 28% favoring retention, combining to a bare majority.

Given just two choices, support or opposition, 56% overall favored expansion of domestic energy production (oil and gas included) and only 14% opposed it. On related infrastructure, 58% favored expansion and only 12% opposed. The crosstabs were not shared, but those figures cannot represent just Republicans or conservatives.

Asked whether they believed “net-zero” was probable by 2050, only 5% said definitely yes and 22% probably yes. The definitely not and probably not groups added up to 39% with 33% not sure. Plenty of liberals and Democrats were among the skeptics, although one of the analysts said parsing the results by age in a different poll produced more dramatic gaps.

The youngest people embrace the climate apocalypse narrative. That is the case in both parties, although among the youngest Democrats the results approach unanimity (99.4%, the analyst says on the recording). Look to the schools and 30 years of a unified media message of alarmism for explanation.

It is not surprising that people who have lived through five or six decades of weather are less susceptible to the nonsense that every storm or drought is a sign of imminent climate catastrophe. The good thing about youth and inexperience is that time cures both (but probably not before the next election).

Again, the Youngkin Energy Plan and new Dominion IRP line up very well with the overall attitudes, even though the poll was national and not just a Virginia sample. The people are ready to hear and accept the advice coming from FERC, the regional transmission organization PJM, and our own FERC Commissioner Christie.

Every time anybody preaches the message that we can run a modern economy on wind and solar, it should be challenged. Politicians and industry should not be afraid to engage with a contrary message of the need for balance, diversity and reliability. The American people are smarter on this than many give them credit for.

First published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. 

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35 responses to “Renewables? Fossil Fuels? Americans Want Both.”

  1. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    The choice has never been either or. We have been on a long term path of reducing carbon. Anyone Anyone who doubts that should look at the work of Jesse Usabel of Rockefeller University.
    The question is at what pace and the risks trade-offs. The most recent IPPC five year analysis has been criticized for straying from scientific assessment to political statements that support past apocalyptic forecasts, all of which have proven wrong.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      The IPCC’s AR6 has been largely discredited, especially the very political summary, but it remains the claimed justification for all the various ways the political class is using “decarbonization” to strengthen government control over our lives. The US Climate Czar John Kerry is now going after agriculture. As if food price inflation isn’t bad enough already.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        A true sign of the apocalypse:
        “U.S. Climate Czar John Kerry”.

      2. DJRippert Avatar

        Food will be a big deal over the next decade and it will not go well for Virginia. Once it becomes obvious that achieving a “zero carbon” world will not happen on their randomly defined schedule, the left will move to conservation. Taxes will be raised on energy in general and fossil fuel generated energy in particular. One huge consumer of energy is food, especially meat. As the cost of animal-based meat products increases, the use of plant-based animal “substitutes” will rise.

        When I eat a breakfast sandwich at Starbucks, I prefer the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich to the sausage, cheddar and egg sandwich. The Impossible sandwich doesn’t exactly mimic the pork alternative – it tastes better.

        Agriculture is Virginia’s biggest industry and I don’t see a lot of progress in moving to plant-based food in the Old Dominion.

      3. William O'Keefe Avatar
        William O’Keefe

        It is important to keep hammering away on the fact that the IPCC has become a political organization that is promoting a narrative that is not credible. This especially important for people who know anything about energy, economics, and transitions.
        BTW: Kerry has always been an elitist lightweight.

        1. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          A Democrat friend of mine who also served on Mekong swiftboats held him in total contempt.

          1. William O'Keefe Avatar
            William O’Keefe

            As did many of his Senate colleagues when he was in the Senate.

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Ideally a), realistically b), suicidally c).

  3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    On Wednesday, May 17th, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) issued its 2023 Summer Reliability Assessment. Summarizing the report, Utility Dive noted that “Most of the United States will face an elevated risk of blackouts should summer weather turn extreme.”

  4. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

    As Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger is fond of pointing out, fossil fuels are valuable, and even if climate change is being over-hyped, the next long-term problem is shortage of fossil fuels.

    Global population growth and furthermore growth of energy use per capita in the world means energy demands are growing such that fossil fuels cannot alone keep up even if they wanted to.

    Prospects for reducing global CO2 are not too good under the growth scenario. However, USA liberals refuse to tolerate fossil fuels, and whereas we are an affluent country, we can probably afford alternatives here.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Solar is affordable in the poorest of places. You try shipping fossil fuel to parts of Namibia, but some panels, a few batteries, and they have lights and connectivity.

      There’s an old chestnut about living simply so others may simply live. The development of onsite power sources, like wind and solar, will make it possible for more of those who are just simply living to upgrade to living simply.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        If you want power to run a stove three times a day, maybe charge your computer, solar + battery can work for a village. If you want the modern lifestyle of the 21st century, it is schist. That is pure old style eco imperialism on your part, imposing your values (which of course you don’t actually live yourself.)

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Hey! It’s the last sentence of my post that counted. Modern technology is also developing solar powered water makers and purifiers.

          Guess your plan is to fly ‘em to Mexico and then bus ‘em from Texas to New York?

          Ya know, you’ll never arrive at a “more perfect nation” looking backwards.

          According to the Captain’s research and posted in one of his articles/comments, there is just 100 years of gettable NG. How much petroleum and coal is there? What’s the plan for 2135? Make that 2075 if we add more and more users.

          Conservatism: that which was before I was born is natural and good; what came after my birth and before I was 35 is the State of the Art; after my 35th, new things are evil and an abomination to God.

          You weren’t back-channel with Larry, were you? You know anything?

        2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          “…it is schist…”

          But given Rule #1, Carol may not be so gneiss…

      2. Acbar Avatar

        Quite right, NN, but most Americans are unwilling to turn off their lights and air conditioners and refrigerators at sunset. The grid is premised on supplying all demand 24/7.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Why would I turn my power off? That’s not my idea of living simply. We have the ability to develop the alternative energy sources that allow others to improve their lives.

          More importantly, we damned well better develop energy sources that have more than 100 years until end of fuel.

          The carbon crowd is a bit like The Blues Brothers’ line, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

          But they need to make it to LA.


  5. Randy Huffman Avatar
    Randy Huffman

    The poll reflects common sense most people want in this and a number of issues. But sadly we live in a polarized environment where one side wants to shut down all coal plants unless they meet unrealistic objectives, and some on the other side says drill baby drill. It is refreshing that Youngkin is advocating for the all of the above approach.

  6. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    As I recall, my distant cousin President Obama opined that we needed “all of the above.”

    I saw a huge wind farm in Austria (more than 800 hundred turbines), but just over the border in Slovakia and in Hungary, old Cold War era nuclear plants were also operating. And there were lots and lots of ICE vehicles on the road from Amsterdam to Budapest. And even in the old sections of medieval towns, almost every dwelling had an attached natural gas meter even with the Russian problems.

    As for Generation Z, they too will be mugged by the realities of life.

  7. Acbar Avatar

    Of course we need both baseload and cycling generation, and peaking resources, too. Even if you’re agnostic on what fuels each of these, you MUST have a healthy mix of all three kinds of generation to run a stable power grid. “Renewables” generation, like solar and wind, complicates life for the system operator because it isn’t responsive to the operator’s instructions when to run, i.e. “dispatch”, but runs according to when the sun shines or the wind blows; it’s worse than cycling generation (and nowhere close to baseload-capable) because it’s intermittent – driven by factors the operator cannot control or, except crudely, even predict. So why even mess with solar and wind power? Because it’s cheap as the sun and the wind when the sun and wind are available.

    We should be using solar and wind power as much as we can up to a reasonable percentage of total generation to lower electricity costs. Lowered carbon emissions is a nice byproduct but you don’t have to be worried about climate change to be a supporter of cheap renewable-resource generation. What’s a reasonable percentage? Think 40% or less. The limitation is common-sense: the higher the percentage of renewables you have, the greater the swings in generation on the grid when the renewable resources shut down. One big storm complex can knock out all the solar power over a wide area in a matter of minutes; wind conditions can be even more variable. When these power sources shut down the system operator must call on other resources to fill the gap or the grid suffers a blackout – it’s that simple, that unavoidable. If there are cycling units ready to run, fine – a good example of a cycling unit is a natural-gas-fired turbine – but a generator built to run for maximum efficiency as base-load probably can’t be brought on line quick enough: a big coal plant can take a full day to get the boilers heated up, and nuclear power takes much longer to bring on-line.

    The latest fad is to tout batteries or “pumped storage” for bulk energy storage. Both allow time-shifting: they can soak up the renewables power when it’s available, then the system operator can call on them to supply the grid with power while other generation is started, or to help satisfy the high demand in the evening, after the sun sets on solar generation (and, typically, when the daily winds drop off, too) but before people retire. But batteries and pumped-storage remain horribly expensive at the scale required for grid operations.

    I think an increasing share of consumers are coming to understand these basic facts about the grid. They want both the “solar farms” and the natural gas cycling units that dovetail with solar. Off-shore wind generators are efficient but pairing them with sufficient natural gas units is the way to achieve least cost overall. Nuclear? By all means keep what we have – whether to build more depends on taming the up-front costs. Retire those old coal plants? Look, the ones around the mid-Atlantic are getting up in years and relatively inefficient anyway; their life cycles are near exhaustion, the cost of coal keeps on rising – they should be retired soon anyway for economic reasons as well as the externalities of mining and emissions; but don’t do so prematurely, when the replacement generation simply isn’t built yet. Push the electric utility industry to renewables simply because it’s the “green” thing to do? In other countries that have mandated a percentage of renewables higher (and faster) than makes economic and operational sense – notably Germany’s “Energiewende” initiative – things have not worked out well at all.

    In short, as TMT put it succinctly, “As for Generation Z, they too will be mugged by the realities of life.”

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      At the risk of inducing an apoplectic fit in some about this place… “Richmond is right. No more NG hookups for housing.”

      We should implement a moratorium on new service and end any grandfathering of forced air gas furnaces. When an NG furnace is in need of updating, it needs to be replaced with High Efficiency heat pumps.

      As for stoves, we need to end NG stoves and ovens, and low efficiency electric, i.e., calrod or radiative transfer. The same for home refrigeration.

      The point source use of NG is incredibly inefficient and we currently leak 10% of our NG into the atmosphere without getting one damned BTU from it.

      Save it for the grid.

      BTW, many of the “drill baby, drill” crowd, after years of claiming Constitutional violations, are finally using 8 Watts of LED light over 60 Watts of incandescent.

      They’ll adjust to induction stoves… eventually.

      1. Acbar Avatar

        So what would you have folks heat their homes with? Or should we all build sod houses with passive solar heating and meanwhile burn kerosene? I’m all for heat pumps within their range of efficiency but there must be some backup for subfreezing weather.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Hey, watch this. An experiment of our own here on BR…

          “Government Orders the Removal of Lead Additives from Gasoline”

          Now, sit back and watch the gripes.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            As long as lead additives can still be purchased separately for use in antique vehicles I have no problem with that. But lead-free gas plays hell with the valve trains of pre-1970s engines.

        2. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Yes, there needs to be backup. Heat Pumps have emergency heat, usually electric furnace, and they will work well in most of the country without ever using the emergency heat.

          But the dual of renewable and efficiency improvements is beeter than cursing the dark.

          We need to CAFE everything.

          I’ve lived the last 50 years listening to gripes on CAFE, LED lightbulbs, the change from R-12 to 134-a refrigerant, etc., etc., and ALL of them are better, cheaper, faster.

          I’ve owned nothing but 4-cylinder engines ranging from 1300cc at 40HP to 2000cc at 165HP, and every one has gotten better gas mileage with more power than the previous.

          As for Solar, the Sun isn’t the only emitter in the solar system. The Earth emits 24/7 and JUST THIS YEAR they have converted to electrical.

          This is on the subject,

          I’ll have to find the paper that detailed the experiment and net electrical result. It’s not very good right now — a football field of collectors for a flashlight. But, it’s a start.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            I take issue with only one of your comments. Strictly from a standpoint of efficiency, there is no better refrigerant than R-12 – and certainly not R-134.

            R-12 is harmful to the environment, and it had to go, but its replacements are not more efficient refrigerants than it was/is.

      2. WayneS Avatar

        BTW, many of the “drill baby, drill” crowd, after years of claiming Constitutional violations, are finally using 8 Watts of LED light over 60 Watts of incandescent.

        I began using LED lights as soon as they became reliable and affordable, because they are a better source of high-quality light than are incandescent light bulbs.

        Prior to that, my objection to being pushed towards fluorescent lighting as a replacement for incandescent lights was that fluorescents suck as a light source. Also, every fluorescent bulb contains mercury, which is a toxic heavy metal.

        I certainly do not miss the risk of being burned trying to replace a light bulb immediately after it has burned out.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          I too hated the pigtails, but in their defense, I still have two over the bay doors that have burned every night from dusk to dawn (can’t remember how to reprogram the automatic switch) for well over 15 years, which reminds me, one is now throwing less light than a match. Need to change it after my shower.

      3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

        Why should a single American give up access to NG heat, water heaters, stoves, ovens, etc. when the federal government has a de facto policy of allowing thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants to cross the border and stay in the country where 99.99999% of them will have a substantially larger carbon footprint than had they stayed in their home country? Illegal immigration adds to warming and climate change.

        Immediately deporting all newcomers that cannot clearly establish a case for asylum and keeping all asylum applicants outside the U.S. unless and until they prove their case would reduce carbon emissions from what they would be under current policy.

        One would think that even a single journalist might have asked these questions. Is climate change our greatest challenge or not? If so, immigration policy needs to support fixing, rather than exacerbating, the problem.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Yes, because the two are so highly related.

          1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

            Of course, they are highly related. Is a poor subsistence farmer from Honduras, Venezuela, Boliva or China going to have a larger carbon footprint in his home country or when working in Colorado, Texas or Illinois? Will his family’s carbon footprint be larger in their home countries or in the United States?

            The extreme envios rant against capitalism and the consumption of goods and services it brings as a cause of warming. Well, the truth of the matter is that all of these poor people coming to the United States for economic reasons are coming to become part of the capitalist system and be able to increase the quality of life by being able to afford to consume a lot more goods and services than they could in their home countries. They are coming to increase their carbon footprints taht comes with a higher standard of living. The environmental movement should be strongly against illegal immigration. But I don’t recall Bill Gates or John Kerry talking about this or ever connecting the two.

        2. Acbar Avatar

          Absolutely yes, it’s got to be our number one priority, including, over sanity. Rather than reducing immigration I’d turn our new AI friends loose on the carbon impact of clothing, and all the cotton and wool that gets used for same. Imagine, for example, if AI’s newfound talents (along with CRISPR gene-altering tools) could devise a genetic modification to fix humans’ lack of warm fur, returning us to a state more resembling the other great apes. Bingo: less clothes needed, and less bed linens also! Would have a huge impact on global warming.

          1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

            Absolutely! We could really set our thermostats much, much lower in the winter if we could refur ourselves.

          2. Acbar Avatar

            Just call it “refurbishment.”

  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Youngkin’s aspirations…

    So, I was reading the NR about it’s getting tough for the GOP to recruit talent in the down ballot positions, and we see real Conservative talent like Larry Hogan backing away while Trump, DeSantis, Scott, and now clearly Youngkin are considering the race.

    Kinda reminds me of a statement Sterling Moss once made about racing in a heavy downpour. It went something like, “I like racing in a heavy rain. The pits will call the amateurs in, and the smart ones will retire on their own. That just leaves the truly crazy and me in the race.”

  9. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “The rigid Democratic positions of “green only” are in response to just a subset of their own core voters.”

    Hmmmm…. the results of your poll seems to discredit this claim…

    “Given just two choices, support or opposition, 56% overall favored expansion of domestic energy production (oil and gas included) and only 14% opposed it.”


    “The crosstabs were not shared…”

    Then nothing can really be deduced from this poll…

    Tell me what the poll results were for using standard fossil fuels vs. de-carbonized fossil fuels for baseload generation…?

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