Exploring bill affordability for low income electricity customers in California

Last registered on March 16, 2021

Pre-Trial

Trial Information

General Information

Title
Exploring bill affordability for low income electricity customers in California
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0007354
Initial registration date
March 15, 2021
Last updated
March 16, 2021, 6:38 AM EDT

Locations

There are documents in this trial unavailable to the public. Use the button below to request access to this information.

Request Information

Primary Investigator

Affiliation
UC Berkeley

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
UC Berkeley

Additional Trial Information

Status
In development
Start date
2021-04-19
End date
2022-04-19
Secondary IDs
Abstract
The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession have made it challenging for many customers to pay their bills on time. Utilities across the country have adopted a number of short-term solutions to assist customers with bill payment, often allowing customers to temporarily accumulate debts. While these interventions offered much-needed short-term assistance, they are unsustainable in the long term. When the crisis ends, it remains an open question which policy levers should be pushed to effectively help utility customers recover from their accumulated debts. In this project, we will work with a public power agency in California, East Bay Community Energy, to run randomized experiments that will allow us to estimate how low-income customers respond to policies that reduce electricity prices and/or provide temporary debt relief. We will use standard economic methods to evaluate how each intervention changes customers’ behaviors in electricity bill payment, electricity consumption, and payment of other bills. Furthermore, we will explore what drives behavioral changes by considering treatment effect heterogeneity. The results of this study will provide insight into the mechanisms that drive utility customer behaviors in payment and consumption, as well as the policy instruments that will most effective in recovering from the current crisis.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Citation
Buchsbaum, Jesse and Meredith Fowlie. 2021. "Exploring bill affordability for low income electricity customers in California." AEA RCT Registry. March 16. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.7354-1.0
Sponsors & Partners

There are documents in this trial unavailable to the public. Use the button below to request access to this information.

Request Information
Experimental Details

Interventions

Intervention(s)
We run a Randomized Encouragement Design (RED) under the Arrearage Management Plan (AMP), a new California debt forgiveness program. Utility customers qualify if they are enrolled in the California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) program and have at least $500 in arrearages, with their oldest arrears at least 90 days old. For each month that an enrolled customer pays their full utility bill, 1/12 of their existing arrearages are forgiven. Hence, for a customer with $1200 in arrearages at the start of the program, $100 would be forgiven each month that the customer pays their electricity and gas bill.
Intervention Start Date
2021-04-19
Intervention End Date
2022-04-19

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Our primary outcome variables include electricity consumption (kWh), 0-30 day electricity bill arrearages, 31-60 day electricity bill arrearages, 61-90 electricity bill day arrearages, 91-120 electricity bill day arrearages, and total electricity bill arrearages.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Payment of other types of bills ($), loan behaviors, and credit scores.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We run a Randomized Encouragement Design, where we expend some encouragement effort to educate potential participants about the pilot program (such as phone calls, fliers, customer outreach). Random assignment of this encouragement can generate random variation in who takes up the program. More specifically, targeting a randomly selected subset of eligible households with strong encouragement/targeted outreach can significantly increase participation among the encouraged group. This provides a basis for highly credibly causal inference, allowing us to isolate the causal impacts on outcomes of interest (e.g. arrears and consumption).
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization will be done using sampling in R.
Randomization Unit
The unit of randomization is a household.
Was the treatment clustered?
No

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
~15,000 households (subject to change depending on the number of eligible customers)
Sample size: planned number of observations
~15,000 households (subject to change depending on the number of eligible customers)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
~7,500 households treatment, ~7,500 households control (subject to change depending on the number of eligible customers)
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Consumption - 23 kWh (5% of mean consumption) 0-30 day electricity bill arrearages - $10 (24.9% of mean) 31-60 day electricity bill arrearages - $10 (31.8% of mean) 61-90 day electricity bill arrearages - $10 (38.8% of mean) 91-120 day electricity bill arrearages - $10 (47.5% of mean) Total electricity bill arrearages - $10 (5.2% of mean)
IRB

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
University of California Berkeley Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects
IRB Approval Date
2021-01-06
IRB Approval Number
2020-06-13347