Yale Study Finds Americans Willing To Pay More For Clean Energy
May 14, 2012

Americans Willing To Pay More For Clean Energy

A call for a national clean-energy standard (NCES) by President Barack Obama during his January 2011 State of the Union address is supported by most Americans, who say they are willing to pay an extra 13 percent in utility costs for green electricity.

Obama´s 2011 address said an NCES would see 80 percent of the country´s electricity produced from clean sources by 2035, but it was uncertain then if the country would back that proposal. To find out, Matthew Kotchen of Yale University and his Harvard colleagues surveyed more than 1,000 American citizens.

In the nationally representative survey, 1,010 US citizens were polled between April 23 and May 12. Respondents were asked whether they would support or oppose an NCES with the goal of 80 percent clean energy by 2035.

Respondents received randomized descriptions of the proposed NCES with one of three definitions for clean energy: renewables only, renewables and natural gas, and renewables and nuclear. They also received differing estimates of how much the NCES would increase annual household electricity bills.

Reporting the results in the journal Nature Climate Change, the team found that Americans are willing to pay an extra $162 (on average) in electricity bills in support of an NCES. However, support was lower among nonwhites, older individuals, and Republicans.

Kotchen used the survey data to simulate how the current US Senate and House of Representatives would vote on different versions of an NCES bill. He and his colleagues found that the bill would only pass both chamber of Congress if average electricity rates increased no more than 5 percent.

This is because the number of Democrats and Republicans in Congress are not directly proportional to the political persuasions of the districts they represent.

“There is public support but it´s difficult to mobilize votes to make it happen,” Kotchen told the New Scientist´s Michael Marshall.

Before last year´s mid-term elections there were more Democrats in both houses, and the data suggest an NCES could have passed even if it boosted electricity bills by 13 per cent. “If people really care about this, changing the balance of the houses makes a big difference,” added Kotchen.

Kotchen´s data suggest that Senate passage of an NCES would require an average household cost below $59 per year, while House passage would require an average household coast below $48 per year.