Two highly regarded Republican political consultants told an audience of state lawmakers, lobbyists, and renewable-energy entrepreneurs Tuesday they should consider government intervention into the renewable energy market a “slam dunk” conservative issue that wins at the ballot box.

“There’s a lot of talk that goes on in the legislative building about different energy policies that are proposed,” said Dee Stewart. “But when a lawmaker supports policies that are conducive to the expansion of clean energy options it’s a winner across the board.”

Stewart and fellow GOP consultant Paul Shumaker, principals of the Raleigh-based consulting firm Strategic Partners Solutions, presented results of a new renewable energy poll conducted on behalf of Conservatives for Clean Energy at the City Club Raleigh.

Conservatives for Clean Energy is an advocate for wind and solar energy, calling renewables a free-market competitor to traditional fossil fuels.

The poll asked if respondents would support increasing the mandate forcing public utilities to buy renewable energy from 12.5 percent of their power mix to 25 percent by 2021. Twenty-five percent is the national average for states with Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards.

During a post-event interview, Stewart defended that concept of short-term, government-led investment in private markets for long-term gain.

“There are some conservatives who just flat believe the government shouldn’t be involved in all kinds of industries, and all kinds of decisions,” Stewart said.

“There are other conservatives, the majority, I believe, who believe that if something is a good investment the government ought to invest in it, and government ought to be an encourager of good ideas, and of innovation, and of small business owners, and of lower costs in the future,” Stewart said.

“The big takeaway [for politicians] is that renewables are not the bad guys in the room, and that if you want to make them into the bad guys you are only going to marginalize the support you’re going to get” because renewable energy has deep bipartisan support, Shumaker said.

He told lawmakers they must make decisions that put them in position to be leaders managing the policy issues that will shape the future “so you’re able to keep your majority, stay in control, and win elections.”

That strategy is “going to become a more daunting task” as voter ideology continues to shift statewide from very conservative toward the political center due to an influx of unaffiliated voters from out of state who support clean energy initiatives, Shumaker said.

State Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said his district polls 70 percent in support of renewable energy issues, which became part of his 2016 primary election against challenger Mark Villee.

“The other side had an organization that went door to door, and they attacked on that issue, and they lost,” Dollar said.

Among findings of the poll, which surveyed 600 likely general election voters, is that Republicans are more likely to support a candidate who supports policies encouraging development of more fossil fuel energy such as oil and coal. Democrats and unaffiliated voters were more likely to oppose such a candidate.

Majorities of Republicans and unaffiliated voters would be more likely to support a candidate who would back increased access to natural gas through new pipeline development. A majority of Democrats would be less likely to support such a candidate.

Overall, 83.2 percent of poll respondents said they would support a candidate encouraging solar, wind, and waste-to-energy technologies. Subsets showed 79.1 percent of Republicans, 86.7 percent of Democrats, and 82.3 percent of unaffiliated voters responding that way.

Large majorities said:

  • They would be more likely to support candidates pushing legislation for home or business owners to finance energy efficiency upgrades.
  • They were in favor of providing consumers more electricity options.
  • They would support legislators who support third-party energy sales directly to consumers instead of utilities controlling a monopoly.

“The main takeaway from this poll is this: When consumer costs aren’t part of the discussion, North Carolinians favor renewable energy sources,” and more options, said Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation.

“The challenge for a poll to promote government favoritism and increasing purchase mandates for their special interest is to make those things sound like choice and competition. This poll manages that by hiding the costs to consumers and withholding other information from respondents as needed,” Sanders said.

One poll question references 34,000 jobs created by the renewable industry, but Sanders said research by economists at the Beacon Hill Institute found renewable energy policies would create a net loss of nearly 3,600 jobs by 2021. Others have taken issue with the job creation claims as well.

Sanders pointed out the “tightrope that the special-interest poll tries to walk” in asking for the No. 1 cause of rising electricity rates in North Carolina, and offering only a handful of possible responses.

Strong pluralities selected “higher profits” and “lack of competition.” Only 10.3 percent blamed renewable mandates.

But, Sanders said, “This is an opinion question,” to which he offered a rebuttal:

  • North Carolina’s electricity rates are falling because of lowering fuel costs, primarily the decreasing cost of natural gas.
  • The cost of the renewable mandates — the REPS rider as well as the Demand Side Management/Energy Efficiency rider — are increasing. If fuel costs weren’t falling, North Carolina’s electricity rates would be rising due to the riders.

Sanders said the only time the poll offered any hint that renewable energy sources cost more than fossil fuel occurred in the campaign context of Donald Trump’s energy policy versus Hillary Clinton’s. The poll found that respondents favored Clinton’s position over Trump’s by 51.8 percent to 28.5 percent.

“I think that question undercuts the entire rationale of the poll,” Sanders said. “The poll wishes policymakers to think that government favoritism and purchase mandates boosting renewable energy are winning political issues. But in point of fact voters in this state favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.”

In last year’s edition of this poll, Sanders noted, only 2.5 percent of respondents said government leaders’ stand on energy was the issue they were most angry about.