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Asymmetric Incentives in Subsidies: Evidence from a Large-Scale Electricity Rebate Program

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  • Koichiro Ito

Abstract

Many countries use substantial public funds to subsidize reductions in negative externalities. However, such subsidies create asymmetric incentives because increases in externalities remain unpriced. This paper examines implications of such asymmetric subsidy incentives by using a regression discontinuity design in California's electricity rebate program that provided a financial reward for energy conservation. Using household-level panel data from administrative records, I find precisely-estimated zero causal effects in coastal areas. In contrast, the incentive produced a 5% consumption reduction in inland areas. Income and climate conditions significantly drive the heterogeneity. Asymmetric subsidy structures weaken incentives because consumers far from the rebate target show little response. The overall program cost is 17.5 cents per kWh reduction and $390 per ton of carbon dioxide reduction, which is unlikely to be cost-effective for a reasonable range of the social marginal cost of electricity.

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  • Koichiro Ito, 2013. "Asymmetric Incentives in Subsidies: Evidence from a Large-Scale Electricity Rebate Program," NBER Working Papers 19485, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19485
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L11 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Production, Pricing, and Market Structure; Size Distribution of Firms
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities
    • L98 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Government Policy
    • Q41 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Demand and Supply; Prices
    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy

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