NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Distributional Effects of U.S. Clean Energy Tax Credits

Severin Borenstein, Lucas W. Davis

NBER Working Paper No. 21437
Issued in July 2015
NBER Program(s):Environment and Energy Economics, Public Economics

Since 2006, U.S. households have received more than $18 billion in federal income tax credits for weatherizing their homes, installing solar panels, buying hybrid and electric vehicles, and other "clean energy" investments. We use tax return data to examine the socioeconomic characteristics of program recipients. We find that these tax expenditures have gone predominantly to higher-income Americans. The bottom three income quintiles have received about 10% of all credits, while the top quintile has received about 60%. The most extreme is the program aimed at electric vehicles, where we find that the top income quintile has received about 90% of all credits. By comparing to previous work on the distributional consequences of pricing greenhouse gas emissions, we conclude that tax credits are likely to be much less attractive on distributional grounds than market mechanisms to reduce GHGs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21437

Published: The Distributional Effects of U.S. Clean Energy Tax Credits, Severin Borenstein, Lucas W. Davis. in Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 30, Brown. 2016

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