Soda tax really works in Berkeley

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A just released study on the effects of the Berkeley, California soda tax of one cent per ounce found that soda consumption has fallen 52% over the last four years. That is a remarkable price elasticity. Assuming a 20-ounce bottle costs $1.99, with a tax of 20 cents, that implies a price elasticity of -5. In other words, for every 1% o price increase, demand falls 5%. The study relied on household surveys, which are not always reliable about consumption quantities, so it would be interesting to see actual sales data.

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Mismatch in job openings and the unemployed

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Evidence of how job training is lagging behind job needs. The U.S. Labor Department reported 7.3 million openings, but only 6.3 million people were actively seeking jobs and unemployed. Employers are not able to find the technically-trained individuals that they need for the changing economy. Only a small portion of this shortfall can be met through training in our standard educational institutions. We should be looking for other retraining solutions such as those in Europe.

Who says economists aren’t funny…

Willingness Toupee

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David M. McEvoyO. Ashton Morgan and John C. Whitehead

No 19-01, Working Papers from Department of Economics, Appalachian State University

Abstract: In this paper we tackle the hairy problem of male pattern baldness. We survey balding men and elicit their willingness to pay to move from their current sad situation to a more plentiful one. Then we comb-over the results. What’s the average willingness to pay to move from a glistening cue ball to a luscious mane? About $30,000.

Key Words: mullet, skullet, comb-over, ducktail, Beatlemania, buzz cut, whiffle, pageboy, attribute non-attendance

The sole reference: Carilli, Anthony M., “Scarcity, Specialization, and Squishees,” Chapter 1 in Homer economicus: The Simpsons and economics. Joshua Hall, ed., Stanford University Press, 2014.

Some sample footnotes:

  1. As is standard in the discipline, author order is determined by reverse Norwood Baldness Scale.
  2. The “stone piece” was a block of dark slate tied around the head to achieve the appearance of a full head of hair. While there are no sources of any such thing actually taking place, the authors imagine that it must have happened.
  3. “In ‘Simpson and Delilah,’ Homer attempts to pursue an executive position in which he doesn’t have a comparative advantage. Mr. Burns confuses Homer with a young go-getter and promotes him to an executive position after Homer has managed to scam himself some Dimoxinil–a miracle cure for baldness–and grow some hair.” (Carilli 2014, p. 11)
  4. It is important to note that the authors did not even bother looking for other studies.

7. Both of these models can be found in the NLogit manual (www.limdep.com) or via Google Scholar. They’re legit but we really don’t want to add any references besides the Simpsons book.

9.Referee #2 may try to claim that you cannot estimate WTP from a mixed logit model with a price parameter distribution that includes negative values because these respondents’ WTP will be undefined. Since distributions that constrain WTP to the positive realm do not perform as well statistically as the normal (we didn’t really check this) and (likely) generate goofy WTP estimates, we choose to present WTP estimated with the mean coefficients. The gullible, er, reasonable, reader will just go along with it since the MXL WTP number is so close to the ECLC WTP estimate and this lends reliability to our data.

Relying on short term changes diminishes the promise of energy storage

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I posted this response on EDF’s blog about energy storage:

This post accepts too easily the conventional industry “wisdom” that the only valid price signals come from short term responses and effects. In general, storage and demand response is likely to lead to increased renewables investment even if in the short run GHG emissions increase. This post hints at that possibility, but it doesn’t make this point explicitly. (The only exception might be increased viability of baseloaded coal plants in the East, but even then I think that the lower cost of renewables is displacing retiring coal.)

We have two facts about the electric grid system that undermine the validity of short-term electricity market functionality and pricing. First, regulatory imperatives to guarantee system reliability causes new capacity to be built prior to any evidence of capacity or energy shortages in the ISO balancing markets. Second, fossil fueled generation is no longer the incremental new resource in much of the U.S. electricity grid. While the ISO energy markets still rely on fossil fueled generation as the “marginal” bidder, these markets are in fact just transmission balancing markets and not sources for meeting new incremental loads. Most of that incremental load is now being met by renewables with near zero operational costs. Those resources do not directly set the short-term prices. Combined with first shortcoming, the total short term price is substantially below the true marginal costs of new resources.

Storage policy and pricing should be set using long-term values and emission changes based on expected resource additions, not on tomorrow’s energy imbalance market price.

PG&E “buys dear, sells cheap”

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PG&E spends $275 million a year on energy efficiency investments that reduce demand by 100 MW. It also spends $65 million a year on demand response to reduce peak loads by 400 MW.  If we assume that energy efficiency investments are effective an average of 12 years the incremental cost of those investments is $66 per MWH (6.6 cents per kWh). For demand response the incremental cost, which should match the market value, is $163 per kilowatt-year (or $13.60 per kW-month). Both of these values are reasonable investments for long-term resources.

Yet, PG&E argues in the PCIA exit fee proceeding and its annual ERRA generation cost proceeding that the appropriate market valuation for its resources are the short-term fire sale values that it realizes in the daily markets. According to PG&E, customers do not realize any additional value from holding these resources beyond what those resources can be bought and sold for the CAISO markets and in bilateral short-term deals.

So we are left with the obvious question: Why is PG&E continuing to invest in energy efficiency and demand response if the utility states that it can meet all of its needs in the short-term markets? This hypocrisy is probably best explained by PG&E manipulating the regulatory process. PG&E’s proposed “market valuation” sets the exit fee for community choice aggregation (CCA) at a high level. Instead, that market valuation should reflect how much CCAs have saved bundled customers in avoided procurement, and what PG&E pays for adding new resources.