UK energy policy – wither public opinion?

August 12th, 2015 by

Government survey shows that the gap between between public opinion and government priorities on energy is widening.

Since March 2012 the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has been conducting face to face interviews with householders for their ‘Public Attitudes Tracker’. Findings from the most recent survey of 2118 households in June 2015 reveals some interesting, and from the Government’s point of view, potentially unwelcome, findings given the slew of policy changes announced since the General Election.

Wither public opinion?

Support for renewable energy has remained consistently high around 75-82% since DECC began surveying attitudes in 2012

On renewable energy the survey found that 75% of households expressed support for the use of renewables, with 25% expressing strong support. Only 4% were opposed to renewables and 1% strongly opposed. As DECC points out, and contrary to the impression often presented in the media, support for renewable energy has been high since the survey began in 2012, and has consistently hovered at around the 75-82%.

By contrast support for fracking is falling and is currently at its lowest level since the DECC began tracking opinion in 2012. Asked whether they support or oppose fracking 46% neither supported or opposed it. Of those that did offer an opinion 28% opposed it versus 21% in favour. This is a reversal of the findings when households were first asked about fracking in February 2014; then 27% supported it and 21% were against.

More significant, given that the Government is putting so many eggs in the basket marked ‘fracking’, is that it appears that the more people know about fracking the less they like it. As DECC says ‘There is more opposition than support amongst those who know a lot about it (54% vs. 32%), know a little about it (35% vs. 27%), and those who are aware of it but don’t really know what it is (23% vs. 13%). The only group to be more supportive are those that haven’t heard of fracking, of whom 12% support it and 7% oppose it.’

Energy Policy: Wither public opinion?

The Government wants to ‘go all out for fracking’ but DECC’s own survey suggests the more people know about it the more they oppose it

The survey also highlights the need for much greater impetus on energy efficiency. Cutting energy demand by improving efficiency remains the most effective way of cutting bills and pollution. But the proportion of households surveyed claiming to give a lot of thought to saving energy at home fell from 27% to 23%, whilst the proportion giving it a fair amount of thought reduced from 51% to 47%. In part, this reduction may be due to a seasonly effect – people think less about energy efficiency in the summer. We will have to wait to see if the mixed messages and apparent ambivalence of the Government to improving energy efficiency is reflected in future surveys.

If DECC’s survey is indicative of the views of the electorate as a whole, then it appears that UK energy policy, as shaped by the Treasury, and implemented by DECC is at odds with public opinion. What if any bearing that has on how the Government proceeds remains to be seen. So too the future of a Public Attitudes Tracker, run by a Government department which highlights the gap between public opinion and its own policy. Don’t be surprised if it falls in the next round of ‘efficiency savings’.

Written by

Environmental consultant, facilitator, founder & Director of Climate Works Ltd.