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Poll: Minnesotans Favor Renewable Sources of Energy
By Marisa Helms
February 12, 2001
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A new poll shows most Minnesotans are aware and concerned about an electricity shortfall projected for the upper Midwest region over the next several years. The poll, commissioned by Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, indicates Minnesotans think the state should turn first to renewable sources of energy to fill the gap.

See complete results of the poll.

SCARY HOME HEATING BILLS and daily news reports about blackouts in California are just the most immediate signs of trouble in the energy supply system. Experts predict the Upper Midwest's electricity supply will fall short by some 5,000 megawatts within five years.

MPR and the Pioneer Press polled 625 people during the second week of February. The survey has a margin of error of plus- or minus-4 percentage points.

When asked how concerned they are about the state's electrical supply, 72 percent say they are very concerned and somewhat concerned.

Bemidji resident Carson Stensland falls into the very concerned camp. He's worried the state could find itself in the same position as California, which is now experiencing a critical energy shortage. Stensland says Minnesota should take steps now to encourage the development of renewable energy sources.

"I really wish we could be looking at alternative energy, more than what we have. It's the fact that we seem to have become very comfortable able to afford electric bills, large vehicles. We should be figuring out what's the alternative; looking more to wind energy, solar power," Stensland says.

A majority of those polled agree with Stensland. Fully 64 percent say alternative energy technologies like wind and water power should be pursued first.

That's good news to Bill Grant, director of the Midwest office of the Izaak Walton League of America He says Minnesotans' interest in energy alternatives is consistent with national polls.

"Almost without exception, these polls show people have an overwhelming preference for renewable energy sources, for cleaner sources, newer technologies and really a feeling that the older, conventional sources like coal and nuclear have had their day, have provided reliable service for a number of years but that we really are in a position now to take advantage of newer, more efficient technologies available and we should start doing that as rapidly as possible," says Grant.

Not many of those polled are interested in conventional plants as a way of avoiding an electricity shortfall. Only 18 percent say they think the state should turn first to the construction of conventionally-fired power plants. But there's a big gap between Minnesotans energy wishes, and the status quo.

Learn more about the energy needs of the upper Midwest, as well as information about deregulation in the MPR online project, This Cold House.
Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility, currently gets only about 16 percent of its supply from hydropower, wind, or other renewable energy sources. Thirty-six percent comes from coal, while nuclear power generates another third.

Mary Sandok, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy, says the solution to the projected future energy shortfall will most likely not be a choice between alternative versus conventional technologies. She says realistically, there will be a more combined approach to the problem.

"We certainly think that among the options, you probably do a combination of building new conventional power plants, looking to alternative energy sources, and also looking to conservation as ways to address this issue," says Sandok.

Energy conservation gets a mixed response in the MPR - Pioneer Press poll. Just nine percent of respondents say the state should encourage conservation as its first response to a future electricity crunch.

But a majority of those polled say they've become more conscientious about energy use because of rising prices. Seventy-seven percent say they're more turning off the lights more often, and 72 percent say they're turning down the thermostat.