Even most Americans in coal-reliant states prefer renewables

A large majority of Americans in coal-heavy states favor increasing renewable energy use. Most would also be willing to buy solar panels for their own use, and a plurality would be willing to pay an additional $5 a month to get energy from fully renewable sources, according to a survey from Consumer Reports.

The consumer advocacy group spoke with 1,200 Americans, including 400 residents of coal-reliant states: Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia. Residents of those four states largely agreed with Americans as a whole, the organization found.  

Overall, 76 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, "Increasing renewable energy (such as solar and wind) is a worthwhile goal." The response rate from Illinois, Tennessee and Virginia was within the survey's margin of error, while Ohio had the lowest rate, at 71 percent. (Major coal-producing states such as West Virginia and Wyoming did not have enough respondents to the poll to draw conclusions.)

A majority of respondents also favored solar for themselves. Between 52 and 57 percent said they would be willing to pay for solar panels if they could recoup the investment within five years.

The time needed for a solar array to "pay for itself" depends greatly on the policies of a particular state and so can vary greatly across the country—currently between four and 10 years in most parts of the country. That's not accounting for any effect solar has on home values, which some accounts say gets a boost from solar.

Fewer Americans said they would be willing to pay $5 more a month for energy that was 100 percent renewable. Residents of Virginia said they were willing to do so at a rate of 52 percent, higher than the other groups interviewed in the survey.

The results may be surprising to some, but they corroborate other recent polling on renewable energy. Last year, Pew found that two-thirds of Americans favor developing clean energy over fossil fuels—a stance that extends to younger generations of Republicans.

Consumer Reports plans to submit the survey results to the Environmental Protection Agency in response to its rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that sped up coal plant retirements, a spokesman for the group said.