The Politics of Energy Policy in California

Jan 9, 2020  |  4:00pm | ESB 1001
Matto Mildenberger
Assistant Professor of Political Science at UC Santa Barbara

This talk will present results from recent Environment and Energy Transitions (ENVENT) Lab research on Californian energy politics. This work examines the politics of solar adoption, wildfires, and Public Safety Power Shut-Offs. In a first study, we use a combination of satellite imagery and voter file data to examine the political identities of US households with residential solar installations. We find that solar households are slightly more likely to be Democratic; however, this imbalance stems primarily from between-neighbourhood differences in partisan composition rather than within-neighbourhood differences in the rate of partisan solar uptake. We also find that solar households are substantially more likely to be politically active than their neighbours, and that these differences in political participation cannot be fully explained by demographic and socioeconomic factors. Our results demonstrate that individuals across the ideological spectrum are participating in the US energy transition, despite extreme ideological polarization around climate change.  A second study examines how wildfire experiences shape clean energy ballot initiative support in Californian elections.  We show that wildfires increased support for costly, pro-clean energy ballot measures by 4 to 6 percentage points for those living within 15km of a recent wildfire. The effect drops by approximately 1.7 percentage points for every 10km thereafter. This effect is largest in Democratic-voting areas, and nearly zero in Republican-dominated areas. Finally, we present preliminary results from a spatially disaggregated survey of Californians who experienced recent Public Safety Power Shut-Offs. We show how experience with these outages shaped energy policy preferences and beliefs about the appropriate structure of California's energy system. 


Matto Mildenberger is Assistant Professor of Political Science. His research explores the political drivers of policy inaction in the face of serious social and economic threats posed by global climate change. Straddling comparative political economy and political behavior, Mildenberger's work focusses on comparative climate policymaking and the dynamics of US climate opinion. His current book project compares the politics of carbon pricing across advanced economies, with a focus on the history of climate reforms in Australia, Norway and the United States.

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