We categorize the primary incentive-based mechanisms under consideration for addressing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation—pricing carbon, setting intensity standards, and subsidizing clean energy—and compare their market outcomes under similar expansions of clean electricity generation. While pricing emissions gives strong incentives to first eliminate generation with the highest social cost, a clean energy standard incentivizes earliest phaseout of the generation with the highest private cost. We show that the importance of this distinction depends on the correlation between private costs and emissions rates. We then estimate this correlation for US electricity generation and fuel prices as of 2019. The results indicate that the emissions difference between a carbon tax and clean energy standard that phase out fossil fuel generation over the same timeframe may actually be quite small, though it depends on fossil fuel prices during the phaseout. We also discuss how each of these policy options is likely to impact electricity prices, quantity demanded, government revenue, and economic efficiency. Large preexisting markups of retail electricity prices over marginal costs are likely to considerably weaken or even reverse the usual assumed efficiency advantage of carbon pricing policies over alternatives, including direct subsidization of clean electricity generation.

Via NBER

Areas of Focus: Energy Markets
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Energy Markets
Well-functioning markets are essential for providing access to reliable, affordable energy. EPIC research is uncovering the policies, prices and information needed to help energy markets work efficiently.
Electric Power
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Electric Power
As the electric power system faces new pressures and opportunities, EPIC research is working to identify the mix of policies needed to accelerate the global transition to clean, reliable, affordable...
Climate Change
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Climate Change
Climate change is an urgent global challenge. EPIC research is helping to assess its impacts, quantify its costs, and identify an efficient set of policies to reduce emissions and adapt...
Climate Law & Policy
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Climate Law & Policy
As countries around the world implement policies to confront climate change, EPIC research is calculating which policies will have the most impact for the least cost.