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DECC polling shows people still worried about energy bills, support renewable energy

  • 09 Jul 2012, 17:15
  • Ros Donald

According to new survey figures, the rising cost of energy is still a major concern in the UK, keeping energy bills high on the political agenda. But efforts by some political sources and media outlets, attempts to blame higher consumer energy bills  on renewables subsidies - ignoring  rising gas prices - don't seem to have resonated with the public. 

Research company TNS UK interviewed 2,121 people about energy and climate issues during March this year for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s Public Attitudes survey. The idea was to gauge how the public sees what DECC calls its main "business priorities" - goals such as energy efficiency, improving the UK's energy infrastructure and increasing the amount of energy we generate from low carbon sources.

The results show that despite high profile media campaigns against  so-called green taxes, 79 per cent of people surveyed support renewable energy for providing electricity, fuel and heat. This result appears to back up a poll - initially commissioned by the Sunday Times - from last year that shows 56 per cent of people asked want to see more investment in onshore wind and other forms of renewable power.

It's also clear that energy bills are a big concern for many. 19 per cent of those asked said they were very worried about paying their energy bills over the past three months, while 37 per cent were fairly worried. But with 82 per cent of those polled agreeing the UK needs a mix of energy sources to ensure its supply is reliable, concern over energy bills doesn't appear to be leading to a rejection of renewable power.

That said, energy and climate concerns don't top most of the respondents' overall concerns, a trend probably reinforced by the UK's current economic crisis. In contrast to unemployment, which 43 per cent of respondents counted as the biggest challenge facing Britain today, only two per cent saw climate change as the biggest threat the country faces, and only three per cent thought it was energy supply.

The missing question

The enthusiasm for renewables, despite concerns about energy bills, suggests the public might not be as susceptible to media reports overstating green subsidies' contribution to rising energy bills as one might suspect from the attention this framing has received of late.

It's not just because this is our own personal  hobby horse, but this seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity to ask what people really think on the issue, given that the government is at present trying to decide the amount by which it's going to cut subsidies to the wind sector. It's clear there's great political interest in this question - there have been several attempts to suggest wind subsidies are making people poorer. And as we highlighted at the time, the Sunday Times decided not to publish the results of its YouGov poll showing support for renewables investment last year.

DECC's own advice suggests the onshore wind industry could stand a 10 per cent cut in the support it receives from Renewables Obligation Certificates, but the Treasury is pushing for a 25 per cent reduction. It's starting to look like the government is going to go for the latter option: according to a DECC spokesman Roger Hargreaves speaking at the Renewables 2012 conference in London last week, the decision on the cut will hinge on "delivering value for money for the public" as well as renewable energy obligations.

But do people blame renewables subsidies for higher energy bills? How much investment in renewables would the public support? And what does the public consider to be value for money? We still don't know. As it stands, the Treasury appears to be backing a 25 per cent cut in subsidies as a result of campaigns by newspapers, politicians and commentators, but perhaps not public opinion.

Click here to see DECC's results. It's going to repeat the exercise to see how public attitudes change over the year.

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