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Essays in Energy Economics

  • Advisor(s): Borenstein, Severin
  • et al.

This dissertation combines research on three topics in applied energy economics. The first two papers investigate whether consumers are informed about and pay attention to energy costs in residential housing. The first paper explores this issue in the rental housing market, while the second paper focuses on housing purchases. The third paper, based on joint work with AJ Bostian and Harrison Fell, uses a laboratory experiment to test the effects of positive versus negative cost shocks on mulit-unit procurement auction performance.

The first paper explores whether there are energy cost information asymmetries between landlords and tenants. If tenants are uninformed about energy costs, landlords cannot capitalize energy efficiency investments into higher rents, leading to under-investment. I exploit variation in energy costs in the form of relative heating fuel price changes in

the northeastern United States where some apartment units heat with oil and some units heat with natural gas. I develop a search model to describe the matching of landlords and tenants, and derive predictions about the incidence of relative fuel price changes, tenant turnover, and efficiency investments under both symmetric and asymmetric information. My model predicts that, under symmetric full information, these outcomes will not differ depending on whether landlords or tenants pay for energy. In contrast, under asymmetric information, the demand of uninformed tenants for units that heat with oil rather than gas will not shift when oil prices rise relative to gas prices. In a search model, this leads to different market outcomes when landlords, rather than tenants, pay for energy. I find that the capitalization of energy prices into rents, turnover rates, and energy efficiency investments differ between the two payment regimes in ways that are consistent with asymmetric information.

The second paper explores whether home buyers are myopic about future energy costs. I exploit variation in energy costs in the form of fuel price changes in Massachusetts where there is an even distribution of homes that heat with oil and homes that heat with natural gas. I find that relative fuel price shifts cause relative changes in housing transaction prices that are consistent with full capitalization of the present value of future energy cost differences under low discount rates. These findings are consistent with home buyers being attentive to energy costs at point of sale and are not consistent with myopia.

The third paper uses a laboratory experiment to test the effects of positive versus negative costs shocks on multi-unit procurement auction performance. Output prices tend to respond more quickly to increases in input prices than to decreases in input prices. While standard economic theory would not predict this pattern, it is found in many market settings. We compare outcomes in uniform price and discriminatory (pay-as-bid) auctions for two different kinds of costs shocks. First we look at ``industry wide'' cost shocks where the cost of a common input changes uniformly for all bidders. We also look at idiosyncratic cost shocks, where bidders' individual costs are changing, but the expected Walrasian price remains fixed. We find evidence for a new explanation of asymmetric passthrough in multi-unit procurement auctions related to the bidding incentives in discriminatory auctions. Discriminatory auctions may be worse than uniform at ``tracking'' shifts in underlying costs, leading to price adjustment asymmetries and production inefficiencies.

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