A new study from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy says that something as simple as how we pay our electricity bills is causing Americans to use more electricity and, in turn, increasing our carbon emissions.
Published in the journal “Review of Economics and Statistics,” the study of 16 years worth of billing records from Santee Cooper, a publicly owned South Carolina utility, showed that residential customers that used automated bill pay consumed 4 to 6 percent more electricity than those who didn’t and that commercial customers used 8 percent more. The most disheartening statistic was that low-income people who had enrolled in an automated budgeting program that helped spread the cost of their electricity use throughout the year, used 7 percent more electricity, meaning they spent even more than they would have if they had stuck with a typical billing program.
Autopay programs are convenient, they ensure that you never miss a payment and they save the utilities money too, but they also cause what the authors are calling “reduced salience” of electricity costs. Customers aren’t paying attention to the cost of the electricity they use every month, so they’re far less mindful of their energy use and end up consuming more.