NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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An Experimental Comparison of Carbon Pricing Under Uncertainty in Electricity Markets

Trevor L. Davis, Mark C. Thurber, Frank A. Wolak

NBER Working Paper No. 27260
Issued in May 2020
NBER Program(s):Environment and Energy Economics

We report on an economic experiment that compares outcomes in electricity markets subject to carbon-tax and cap-and-trade policies. Under conditions of uncertainty, price-based and quantity-based policy instruments cannot be truly equivalent, so we compared three matched carbon-tax/cap-and-trade pairs with equivalent emissions targets, mean emissions, and mean carbon prices, respectively. Across these matched pairs, the cap-and-trade mechanism produced much higher wholesale electricity prices (38.5% to 52.6% higher) and lower total electricity production (2.5% to 4.0% lower) than the “equivalent” carbon tax, without any lower carbon emissions. Market participants who forecast a lower price of carbon in the cap-and-trade games ran their units more than those who forecast a higher price of carbon, which caused emissions from the dirtiest generating units (Coal and Gas Peakers) to be significantly higher (15.2% to 33.0%) than in the carbon tax games. These merit order “mistakes” in the cap-and-trade games suggest an important advantage of the carbon tax as policy: namely, that the cost of carbon can treated by firms as a known input to production.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27260

 
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