Glas Plant Cancellations and Ontario Electricity Policy

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A new poll from Abacus Data finds that while interest in the gas plant cancellation controversy has declined since May, a large plurality of Ontarians (48%) believe that the issue is serious enough to warrant a provincial election.

Along with questions about the gas plant cancellations, the survey also measured Ontarians knowledge and perceptions about electricity generation in the province.  A majority of respondents (60%) said that their energy bill had increased in the past year while another 29% said their electricity bill had stayed about where it was a year ago.  Furthermore, Ontarians generally underestimate the importance of nuclear power in the province’s electricity mix while overestimating the importance of renewable energy like wind, solar, and biomass as well as coal powered electricity generation.

Gas Plant Cancellations

Overall, four in ten respondents said they had been following news of the gas plant cancellations either very closely (8%) or somewhat closely (32%).  Another 31% said they had not been following the issue closely while 14% had not heard about it at all.  Since May 2013, the number of Ontarians following the cancellations in the news has fallen by 15%, suggesting that while not gone from the headlines, the issue may have already inflicted all the political damage it is capable of.

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Respondents who were aware of the cancellations were then asked how satisfied they were with each political party’s reaction, and with the amount of information the controversy has uncovered.

Just 18% of respondents were satisfied with the way the Ontario Liberal Party has handled the controversy, compared to 30% for the Tories and 36% for the NDP.  Combined with the favourable increases in the leadership traits of Andrea Horwath, the NDP is likely to emerge from the controversy ahead of both the Liberals and Tories.

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In terms of satisfaction with information, just 22% of respondents who had heard of the controversy were satisfied with the amount of information released, compared to 78% who believe there is still more information which needs to be uncovered.

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However, when asked whether the opposition parties should continue to pursue the issue in committees and in the legislature, respondents were divided.  Fifty-four percent believed the opposition should move on and focus on other issues while 46% wanted the opposition to continue to pursue the issue in the legislature.

Further, when asked whether the gas plant controversy is enough to force an election, 48% of respondents felt it is, while 30% said no and 21% were unsure.  Desire for an election was largely motivated by political support, with just 18% of Liberals thinking it should force an election, versus 56% of NDP supporters and 75% of Tories.

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Ontario Electricity Prices

When asked whether their electricity bill has increased, decreased, or stayed the same in the past year, most Ontarians surveyed said their electricity bill has increased.  Sixty percent said their electricity bill had gone up while 29% said it stayed about the same.  Only 2% said their bill had gone down.

Those living in rural Ontarian were most likely to say their bill had increased (71%).

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Ontario Energy Policy

In the next section, respondents were shown several questions related to their perception of energy generation in Ontario in general, and towards a range of energy production methods in particular and asked to rank them across traits such as environmental friendliness, cost, and safety.

The table below highlights the overall lack of energy literacy within Ontario.  Although mean scores roughly approximate the correct order of total generation levels, the consistently high standard deviation scores indicate that there is very little consistency amongst respondents in terms of their knowledge of Ontario’s actual electricity mix.

On average, Ontarians as a whole believed that more of our electricity is produced from renewable sources like wind, solar, and biomass than is all actually generated while on average, Ontarian underestimated the importance of nuclear power to Ontario’s energy mix.

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                                Source: Ontario Power Generation Fact Sheet: http://www.opg.com/education/kits/grade9student.pdf

Perceptions about energy sources

When asked about their overall impression towards a range of sources of electricity, a majority of Ontarians had positive impressions of solar, hydro-electric, natural gas, and wind power generation.  Despite low positive numbers for nuclear and biomass, coal power generations was the only source to earn a majority negative impression.

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While coal power was seen in a negative light by supporters of all three major Ontario political parties, Progressive Conservative voters were most likely to have positive views of nuclear (57%) and hydro-electric power (76%), the two most common sources of electricity production in the province.  Meanwhile, NDP supporters registered the lowest positive scores for nuclear power generation (28%).

Relative Ranking of Energy Sources

Building off of the overall perceptual evaluation of each energy source, respondents were asked to rank the sources on three key scales: environmental friendliness, cost, and impact on health.

Regardless of the accuracy of the respondent’s rankings, Ontarians were quite consistent in identifying which sources of electricity they felt to be the most (and least) environmentally friendly.   There is a fairly clear hierarchy when it comes to electricity sources and how environmentally friendly each is relative to each other.

 

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Respondents had very little common or clear idea of the actual or relative cost of each method of generating electricity.  Although nuclear power was seen by nearly a majority (47%) of Ontarians as one of the most expensive, most other methods on the list were at least as likely to be in the overall top two as they were to be in the overall bottom two.

In terms of health and safety, respondents had strong views relating to coal and nuclear power as sources of energy, with a majority ranking both options within the top two.  Solar energy was, not surprisingly, ranked as the least likely to have a negative impact on health and safety.  However, it is worth noting that despite controversy surrounding wind power, a majority of respondents ranked it as having some of the least impact on health and safety.  More specific views on attitudes towards wind turbines are detailed below.

Views on Wind Turbines

Respondents were also asked their views on whether they support or oppose building wind turbines depending on the location of the turbines.  Support for building wind turbines increased as the location became more broadly based.

Across the province, 33% of respondents either strongly or somewhat supported building a wind turbine on their property while 51% said they support building wind turbines within sight of their property.  Support was more broadly based for wind turbines in respondents’ communities (66%) while 81% supported building wind turbines within Ontario.

When we compare results across different community types, we find little variation in opinion between Ontarians who live in urban, suburban, or rural communities.  While rural respondents are somewhat less likely to support wind turbines being built in general, the differences are not substantial.

Similarly, when we compare opinions across partisan support, our survey found that Liberal and NDP supporters are more likely to support building wine turbines in general but that a large percentage of PC supporters also support wind turbines even within sight of their property.

The survey was conducted online with 1,000 Ontarians eligible to vote using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a representative online panel of over 400,000 Canadians.  The survey was completed from August 30 to September13,  2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 1,000 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Ontario’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.

For more information about the poll’s methodology or the results, please contact David Coletto, CEO at david@abacusdata.ca or at 613-232-2806.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248

E: david@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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