Will consumers really pay for green electricity?

Public support is growing for policy initiatives to spur a transition from a fossil to renewable energy portfolio in the electricity sector. Some utilities in the United States offer programs that allow consumers to voluntarily pay premiums (0.1–7.0 ¢/kWh) for electricity from renewable sources. However, it is unclear whether public support translates to paying for green electricity if given the option. Our analysis employs data from two national, longitudinal surveys on energy attitudes and willingness to pay for renewables to investigate whether environmental concerns and stated preferences for renewable energy translate to consumer behavior as measured through ratepayer participation in voluntary utility renewable energy programs known as utility green pricing. We find higher green pricing program participation rates in areas where consumers have stronger feelings about the environmental impacts of energy. Consumers in high-participation areas also have a higher stated willingness to pay for renewable energy, on average, than consumers in low-participation areas. We also find income, homeownership, and home value explain some of the difference between high- and low-participation programs. Further, program participation is lower in areas where utilities charge higher green pricing program premiums. These findings suggest that green power programs—such as utility green pricing—offer a market-based mechanism for consumers to realize their desire to purchase renewable energy. Policymakers may use these results to support further expansion of green power programs in areas where customers currently lack accessible and affordable options to act on their environmental beliefs and concerns.

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Knapp, L., E. O’Shaughnessy, J. Heeter, S. Mills and J.M. DeCicco. 2020. Will consumers really pay for green electricity? Comparing stated and revealed preferences for residential programs in the United States.  Energy Research & Social Science 65 101457.