Date of Award:

2016

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Environment and Society

Advisor/Chair:

Dr. Roslynn G.H. Brain

Abstract

A large-scale transition to renewable energy sources will become increasingly appealing as the issues of federal regulation, climate change, and decreased fossil fuel energy return on energy investment become more prevalent. Although renewable resources remain a small portion of the nation’s and Utah’s energy portfolio mix, current power purchase agreements indicate an impending boom. Cooperative Extension should play an integral role in the transition to renewable resources on the national, state, and local levels. The purpose of Extension is to provide objective, research-based, and credible information to improve local communities. There is a great opportunity for Extension agents to be trusted experts in educating and assisting farmers, ranchers, and homeowners in transitioning to renewable energy systems. This thesis identified the benefits, barriers, and opportunities for renewable energy outreach in Extension. Data were collected through a nationwide online survey and focus group interviews, in addition to a Utah-based online survey. The nationwide survey and interviews revealed a need and demand for increased renewable energy programming in Extension. This need became further evident after a nationwide inventory discovered that only twenty-two of fifty states have distinct renewable energy departments, programs, or discipline areas. A Utah-based needs assessment revealed that fifty-nine percent of Utah State University (USU) Extension employees agreed that there was a need for a statewide renewable energy specialist. Additionally, more than fifty-five percent of employees agreed that there was an internal and public demand for USU Extension to provide and receive renewable energy information, programs, education, and outreach. The Utah-based survey also revealed differing perceptions of the environmental harmfulness of common energy sources. Different attitudes toward conventional and renewable energy sources demonstrated the need for unbiased, properly messaged delivery of desired renewable energy programs.

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