Study: Public willing to pay for more green energy

The CES modeled in the study is similar to the one endorsed by President Obama and included in legislation proposed by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

The survey found that the public is willing to tolerate electricity bill increases of up to $199 per year for a CES that includes renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

But the public has less tolerance when natural gas and nuclear power are added into the mix. On average, the public would support a CES with renewable and natural gas as long as it didn’t raise electricity prices more than $142 per year. The threshold is $147 per year for a CES with renewables and nuclear power.

For every $10 increase in electricity bills, an additional 1 percent of the population is likely to oppose a CES, the survey found.

Still, 24 to 30 percent of respondents say they would oppose a CES whether it raised their electricity bills or not. In addition, non-whites, seniors and Republicans are less likely to support a CES, the survey found.

Using the survey results, researchers found that a CES would pass — something that's highly unlikely at the moment — if lawmakers simply reflected the sentiment of their constituents.

“There are many different factors that go into political decision-making, but the fact remains that if members of Congress voted in line with the views of their constituents, a national clean energy standard is politically feasible,” Joseph Aldy, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

From the study: “We estimate that Senate passage of a NCES would require an average household cost below US$59 per year, and House passage would require costs below US$48 per year. The results imply that an ‘80% by 2035’ NCES could pass both chambers of Congress if it increases electricity rates less than 5% on average.”

Professors at Harvard University and Yale authored the study. The authors polled 1,010 adults around the country during April and May of last year.

Democrats — and some Republicans — have been pushing low-carbon energy standards for years. But Bingaman — a long-time supporter of a renewables mandate who more recently threw his support behind including non-renewables — has admitted that Congress has little appetite to pass the legislation.

“I think it would be very difficult to get it through both houses,” Bingaman said last year. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t introduce it and talk about it and let people respond to it.”

Bingaman is holding a hearing Thursday on his CES legislation. David Sandalow, under secretary of energy at the Energy Department, and Howard Gruenspecht, acting head of the Energy Information Administration, will testify on the bill.

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