Wisconsin loves wind power, but for the right reasons?

Aerial photo of a wind farm in the Badger State.

A survey released today by Wisconsin Public Radio shows an overwhelming majority in the state supports wind power, but they may be confused about what it actually accomplishes.

The survey covers a wide range of hot-button state issues, but several questions specifically addressed wind power.

The headline statistic is that 77 percent of those polled said they want more wind power in the state, followed by hydroelectric, biomass, natural gas, and nuclear. Only 19 percent said they wanted more coal power.

However, of those who said they wanted more wind power, 83 percent said it will decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil. Yes, one can argue, as T. Boone Pickens does, that wind power frees up natural gas for transportation use, but that’s quite a stretch.

To be fair, similar percentages also agreed with statements that wind power would reduce coal use or help the environment. But when asked for the strongest reason to support wind energy, the largest percentage — 38 percent — again said it would reduce consumption of foreign oil.

And just more than half (51 percent) said they’d be willing to pay as much as $5 a month more on their electric bills to “significantly increase” the state’s use of wind energy.

But it’s the siting and land use questions that yield the most interesting results.

When asked, open-ended, to name harmful effects of wind power, 36 percent couldn’t name any. Twenty percent mentioned bird/wildlife issues, and only 12 percent cited noise. Cost, land use, aesthetics, and health hazards only mustered single digits.

The survey ventures into the state’s wind-siting debate, but misframes the question by asking whether people favor state or local control (61 percent said local).

Problem is, the policy issue in Wisconsin is not a question of state versus local control, but one set of state standards versus another, far more restrictive set of state standards.

To that end, the survey seems to indicate support for the less restrictive standard — 69 percent said they would favor having 8-10 wind turbines “located close” to their homes. Although, without a sense of what “close” means (100 feet? 2 miles?) it’s hard to gauge what that actually means.

A follow-up question illustrates this. Respondents were asked if they lived close to a wind turbine. Those that said “yes” were asked how far, and the answers varied widely. Only 11 percent said a mile or less (Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed siting standards would essentially require a setback of 1,800 feet) while 64 percent said “close” was a distance of 2 to 10 miles.

So it seems the takeaway is that Wisconsinites favor wind power, but not necessarily in their back yards. Not altogether surprising, really.

While we’re on the subject, another poll in Nebraska conducted by the Center for Rural Affairs also found strong support for wind power as well as a renewable energy standard. But once again, reducing foreign oil imports was cited as a major reason.

Photo by David Warlick via Creative Commons

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