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A new study predicts that an 80% by 2035 clean energy standard, similar to the one introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in March, could pass both chambers of Congress if it increases electricity rates by less than 5% on average.

The report, published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, concluded that in order for the Senate to pass such a policy, the average increase would have to amount to less than $59 per year for the average U.S. household, and for the House of Representatives to pass it, additional costs would have to be below $48 per year.

A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that Bingaman's proposal would not increase electricity rates in the first 10 years following its enactment, but rates would likely climb after that.

However, customers may be willing to pay for that increase, the authors of the study claim. According to the report, which used a representative survey and "randomized treatments on the sources of eligible power generation," the average U.S. citizen is willing to pay an additional $162 per year on his or her electric bills in order to purchase clean energy.

Absent a federal mandate, some utilities are already offering customers the option to choose renewable energy for a slightly higher premium.

Last month, the Maine Public Utilities commission launched Maine Green Power, which gives the state's residents the option to purchase locally produced renewable energy. California-based utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is also asking state regulators to approve a similar program that would let customers choose 100% renewable energy for an extra $6 a month.

As it turns out, the study featured in Nature Climate Change is timely. Bingaman's clean energy standard proposal will be the focus of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing today.


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