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Americans approve of solar energy on public lands

Solar energy is viewed most favourably by Americans as the energy technology that should be installed on government land that is not set aside for national parks and nature preserves.

The national poll shows that 75% of respondents support development of solar energy plants on public lands. Of this total, 39% ‘strongly support’ and 36% ‘somewhat support,’ wither self-identified Democrats and Republicans reporting similar levels of support (74% and 73% respectively), while Independents are most supportive of solar energy plants at 79%.

“The American public overwhelming supports the development of solar energy,” says Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) which commissioned the poll from Gotham Research Group. “It is time for our elected officials to respond to this high public demand and enact policies that allow solar to compete with other energy sources on a level playing field.”

Another 38% placed solar power in the top choice for the best use of public land. Democrats are most supportive of developing solar power on federal land, followed by Independents. Among Republicans, solar power is rated in second place after drilling for oil.

Solar and wind tie for top priority for government

Respondents said solar farms and wind power (at 22% each) should be the top energy sources that the US Government should prioritise for support, ahead of natural gas at 16%, nuclear at 16%, oil at 11% and coal at 4%. Democrats and Independents are most supportive of solar energy, while Republicans clearly prefer either wind farms or nuclear reactors.

“When Americans talk about solar energy, they usually envision rooftop systems, which are great, but it’s important to also realise the significant role that utility-scale solar has to play,” adds Democratic member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords, who released the results with Resch.

“Large solar installations use economies of scale to achieve significant cost savings and help Americans to get the most solar ‘bang for the buck.’ It’s great to confirm that the rest of America is just as excited about utility solar as we are.”

“The 17 GW of utility-scale solar projects proposed in the US offer great opportunities for companies like ours,” says Tom Hecht of SCHOTT Solar. “Not only will these projects produce clean, reliable energy, but they will create tens of thousands of high-paying, American jobs in manufacturing and construction trades from coast to coast.”

“We know that solar energy can be generated cleanly, reliably and with a stable fuel price,” adds Marc Ulrich Southern California Edison. “Solar is California's great untapped renewable resource, and we look forward to integrating more into our energy generation portfolio and to working toward the state's renewables goal.”

Outlook promising for utility-scale solar

SEIA notes that the outlook for utility-scale solar in the USA is promising, with five new plants coming on line in 2009 and 100 utility-scale solar projects under development. These projects represent 17 GW of capacity, enough to provide clean power to 3.4 million homes and to create 100,000 jobs.

“The sun provides more energy in an hour than all the coal mines and oil wells do in a year,” notes Sean Garren of Environment America. “Solar energy will play a major role in weaning the nation from dangerous, polluting, unstable and, in many cases, increasingly expensive forms of energy. America can and must figure out how to tap the heat and power of the sun."

The survey polled 500 US adults in February, with a margin of error of +/- 4.4%.

SEIA was established in 1974 and is the US trade association for the solar energy industry.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Solar electricity