Distributional Impacts of Carbon Pricing Policies in the Electricity Sector
The introduction of a price on carbon dioxide will have important effects on the U.S. economy, and especially important effects on the electricity sector, which currently accounts for about 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. This paper examines alternative approaches to the distribution of allowance value to the sector, including free allocation to consumers through electricity and natural gas local distribution companies (LDCs). Recent proposals in the U.S. Congress, including H.R. 2454, have suggested this option as a way to address impacts on consumers and potential regional inequities. We compare allocation to electricity LDCs with a system in which allowances are auctioned and revenues returned to households as a per capita dividend. We evaluate the outcomes under alternative assumptions about how LDCs, which are regulated entities, pass through the allowance value to final residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Our results show that the LDC approach raises the price of allowances and imposes greater costs on households than the per capita dividend option. We also evaluate a more complete characterization of H.R. 2454 and show that an incremental reform to that bill would greatly reduce costs and have more balanced impacts across households in different income groups and regions.
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