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By Russ Finley on May 17, 2012 with 5 responses

How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Clean Energy?

A recent study published in the subscription only Nature Climate Change (which I do not have a subscription for) found the price Americans are willing to pay to have 80 percent “clean” energy by 2035. Drum roll please  … $13 bucks a month.

The researchers went a step further and calculated that the cost would have to drop even further to overcome political barriers:

The researchers — Joseph E. Aldy, Matthew J. Kotchen and Anthony A. Leiserowitz — ran a what-if exercise and found the current level of public support insufficient to overcome entrenched opposition in Congress.

Majority rule does not really apply there, of course: getting anything controversial through the Senate, for example, requires 60 votes to break filibusters. With some number-crunching and assumptions about how preferences back home would influence the votes of lawmakers, the researchers found that the annual added cost per household of a clean energy policy would have to drop below $59 a year to pass the current Senate and below $48 a year to pass the current House.

Ignore for now that there is no consensus as to what constitutes a clean energy source. The survey also assumed that 80 percent “clean” energy was technologically and economically feasible, which is about as useful as asking people how much they would be willing to pay to vacation on Mars.

Their willingness to pay declined if nuclear or natural gas were included in the definition of clean. Not having access to the full study, and judging by the name of the journal, I am assuming that by clean, they meant sources that produce the least amount of greenhouse gases:

Justin Gillis of the New York Times interprets this to mean that …

If we are going to bother with it at all, the public seems to feel, we might as well go deep green.

Riiight …deep green, whatever that means. Almost all “deep green” energy today, by my definition, comes from the combustion of plant material and the damming of river ecosystems. Scaling either one up will exacerbate the extinction crisis. Read Will mega-dams destroy the Amazon? Then read Wildlife in the tropics plummets by over 60 percent and Greening the world with palm oil?

Over the last 20 years renewable energy in the U.S. has gone from 11% of our mix to 10%. From How wind power fits into our energy diet:

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club have recently joined forces to try to stop a solar project in California:

“…the Calico project covers 4,000 plus acres of important wildlife habitat in the Pisgah Valley, including key desert tortoise habitat.  Building this solar power plant would also threaten at least six other imperiled species such as burrowing owls, golden eagles, Mojave fringe-toed lizards, Nelson’s bighorn sheep and several rare plants.”

Photo courtesy of j03 via Flickr.

  1. By Andrew Holland on May 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Russ – you make it sound like $13 a month isn’t a big deal because it’s not that much money.

    But – the Waxman-Markey climate bill would’ve cost each person $175 per year in 2020 – and that’s about $14.50 a month. That would’ve gotten us to an 80% reduction by 2050; so in the ballpark for what the public states they’re willing to do. 

    The problem, then, isn’t cost – but the politics. 

    • By Robert Rapier on May 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      The problem, then, isn’t cost – but the politics.


      Another problem, though, is that what people say they will pay for in a poll isn’t necessarily what they are really willing to pay for. I saw someone put it like this: If you polled Americans on whether they personally hold racist views, the number is going to be much lower than the number who actually have racist views. In other words, people have a more generous view of themselves when we are only talking in terms of hypotheticals. I bet if you asked people if they would sponsor a starving child for $1 a day, the majority would say yes, but a small minority would actually do it.


    • By Russ Finley on May 18, 2012 at 12:43 am

      It doesn’t sound like a big deal to me either, Andrew.  The number seems absurdly low considering the potential ramifications. And as Robert suggests, few would actually be willing to pay that much. In fact, many Americans can opt to pay extra for green energy today, which funds projects like wind and solar. My utility calls its program “Green up.” You can donate up to $12 a month. Not a lot of takers.

      It’s largely a moot point considering that we don’t have the technology to affordably achieve an 80% reduction in GHG without nuclear.

  2. By LMADster on May 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

    It’s easy to find out the truth: Have one prez candidate say he will raise taxes on every American (Obama) and then restrict their energy use to 80% renewables; then have the other say he won’t (Romney); then see who wins

    We do in fact need a carbon tax but we wont get it unless we “Buy Off” those who, in good faith, oppose it. But how? Eco Leaders need to ask themselves these questions:

    1) If the solution to too much CO2 in the air is to use less fossil fuels, why is NOT the solution to too much federal debt to use less government?

    2) If the optimal amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm (current=389 ppm) because that is the optimal concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere that life as we know most likely can continue, why is 18% of GDP (current =25% GDP) NOT the optimal size of the federal government since that is the size that most likely yields maximum economic growth?

    Get those two questions right and you’ll have Conservatives begging you for a carbon tax.

    Think about it. Progressives and Conservatives are actually making the same apocalyptic argument albeit on different issues. They both make good arguments for action. But the public is yawningly uninterested in AGW and unwilling to make the hard choices on America’s fiscal problems. Buying off the opposition is the American way.It’s time for progressives concerned about rising temperatures and conservatives concerned about rising federal debt to realize the obvious: they need to BUY each other off in order to effectively address their pet ideological concerns-there is no other way. This means trading, among other things, a carbon tax for a balanced budget amendment and a more limited government. This plan — the LMAD PLAN — is outlined at

    The LMAD PLAN BUYS OFF Liberals with much more than just a $600 billion carbon tax. It also adds fully-funded Healthcare for every American, a public option health insurance entity, and the implementation of tax schemes frequently advocated by Liberals such as a “sugar” tax and a value-added tax. The LMAD plan even grants overnight amnesty of 10 million illegal aliens.

    LMAD buys off Conservatives with much more than a balanced budget and limited government ; it permanently ends future illegal immigration, adds tort reform and completely replaces all taxes on production, labor, saving and investment with the new carbon tax, the value-added tax and the sugar tax.

    The LMAD plan even removes the burden of healthcare expenses from corporate balance sheets by ending our reliance on employer-provided health insurance.

    Wahla! Green tech, energy efficiency, green jobs, cleaner air WITHOUT costly government regs or Obama-instituted crony capitalism.



  3. By M. Straub on May 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    It’s easy to say the questions were a little biased.  Do people want more clean energy?  Of course.  Do people want to continue to damage the planet and leave a mess for their great-great-grandchildren to clean up?  We’d much rather have future generations look back on this time in human history and say, ‘thanks for (insert incredible clean technology here)’.

    Now the good news is there are truly revolutionary, clean energy options happening every day, and they don’t burn anything.  Just one example is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).  It creates baseload, emission free power from the temperature difference in shallow and deep water. Plus, OTEC’s only byproduct is millions of gallons of clean drinking water. Now this isn’t the answer for everyone, but OTEC can dramatically improve the lives of millions of people living in tropical regions worldwide.  

    To see how OTEC works for yourself and find out who is tapping into the power today check out The On Project.

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