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Revenue Decoupling for Electric Utilities: Impacts on Prices and Welfare

Under traditional (cost-of-service) electric utility regulation, regulated utilities may not recover their fixed costs when their sales are lower than expected. Revenue decoupling (RD) is a mechanism that allows price adjustments so that the regulated utility recovers its required revenue. This paper investigates the welfare and distributional impacts of RD. Theoretically, we find that the excess burden of subsidies for distributed generation is larger with RD than without. Contrary to how RD is specified on dockets in many states, electricity prices appear to demonstrate downward rigidity, while statistically significant upward adjustments on average are observed across utilities that experienced decoupling. We also find empirically that RD has generated negative welfare effects in most states even if we consider the social marginal costs of electricity generation given different energy mix across regional markets.

Working Paper


Not All Regions Are Alike: Evaluating the Effect of Oil Price Shocks on Local and Aggregate Economies

Using a sample of 48 contiguous U.S. states for the period 1973-2013, we study how oil price shocks influence state-level economic growth. The analysis incorporates (1) a structural decomposition of the supply and demand factors that drive the real price of crude oil; (2) heterogeneity of states in terms of their production and consumption of oil and natural gas; and (3) economic spillovers across neighboring states. Oil price effects vary across states, depending on the underlying source of the price shock and a state's average production of oil relative to its average consumption. Oil-exporting states are more vulnerable to unanticipated changes in oil prices, and the direct effect of oil price shocks can magnify or temper effects on neighboring states. Aggregated predictions from the state-level model also differ modestly from stand-alone aggregate model (Kilian, 2009). The aggregated state-level model implies that the recent (2005-2016) decline in U.S. dependence on foreign oil reduced aggregate sensitivity to exogenous supply shocks by more than a third.

Working Paper


Do Energy Efficiency Standards Hurt Consumers? Evidence from Household Appliance Sales

We examine the effect of energy efficiency standards on the clothes washers market using a constant-quality price index constructed from same-model price changes for a significant majority of clothes washer models sold in the United States between 2001 and 2011. We find constant-quality prices fell over time, while quality increased, particularly around times energy standards changed. We estimate total welfare changes by assuming the difference between average price and constant-quality price indicates average quality. Further examination shows product entry and exit are associated with changes federal standard for energy efficiency. With policy changes implicitly coordinating entry and exit, average vintage sharply falls when standards change. Controlling for individual model and time effects, we find that lower average vintage is associated with more rapidly falling prices, an effect we attribute to increased competition. We also find a strong relationship between clothes washer prices and average vintage of the same manufacturer, which indicates cannibalism explains much of the declining price of clothes washers over time. We apply the same methodology to other appliances (clothes dryer, room air conditioners and refrigerators) which did not experience simultaneous efficiency standard changes between 2001 and 2011. We see the same cannibalism in the market for clothes dryers, but not for room air conditioners or refrigerators. We also find notable improvements both in the characteristics of clothes washers that directly improve energy efficiency and those that promote convenience and space-saving. Energy efficiency standards appear to facilitate more rapid innovation and price declines.

Revised version, posted December 22, 2016

working Paper