The developer BrightSource Energy and the pro-solar nonprofit Vote Solar Initiative have joined forces to promote construction of utility-scale solar power plants in the Southern California desert. The biggest tool in their marketing/PR kit: A new poll [PDF] that shows 75 percent of residents in the “Southern California pan-Desert”—Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial, Inyo and Kern counties—support building “large-scale solar-powered electric generating systems” in the desert.
The BrightSource/Vote Solar poll reflects long-standing public good will toward renewable energy, but it comes amid signs that developers of industrial-scale power generation in rural areas are sensing push-back. Just in the last few weeks we’ve seen the wind industry aggressively respond to the documentary “Windfall,” which critics have portrayed—and gushed over—as an indictment of big wind. And in Riverside County itself, big solar has gone to court to fight a county-imposed annual fee (or tax, as the developers label it) on utility-scale solar plants.
The folks behind the new poll said it shows they’ve actually got the public on their side.
“The survey demonstrates widespread support for solar development in California’s deserts,” Adam Probolsky, CEO of Probolsky Research, which conducted the survey, said in a statement. “Nearly four out of five people surveyed believe that the California desert is a great resource and should be used to develop solar power projects. We polled just residents living in the desert communities where renewable energy projects are being proposed. Voters understand the impacts and the rewards of utility-scale solar projects in California’s desert communities and they support it.”
In addition to probing the overall level of support for solar development in the desert, the survey asked subjects whether their view of solar might be improved if they knew it would create jobs (yes, most said) or improve air quality (yes again). But one thing the poll didn’t do, noted Chris Clarke, an environmental journalist and activist who lives in the desert, is press people to see how their views might shift if they knew that utility-scale solar development causes significant damage to the fragile desert ecology, as Clarke contends.