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Electric power distribution: economies of scale, mergers, and restructuring

  • John Kwoka
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    Electricity distribution is generally viewed as a natural monopoly and therefore as having the least potential for the kinds of reforms that have swept the electric power sector in many countries. Mergers among distribution companies and efforts at retail competition have nonetheless altered the operation of the distribution stage. This research into US electric utilities uses a much larger and less selective data base than previously available to examine the scale properties of distribution with respect to output, distance, and customer numbers, and for different functions within distribution. It finds significant economies at low output levels, holding system size and customer density constant, but the cost gradient is otherwise modest. It also finds that geographic size and customer numbers are quite important and that economies are significantly stronger for the infrastructure or 'wires' business than for the marketing function performed by distribution utilities. These results lend credence to efforts at retail competition that separates these functions, but cast doubt on the benefits of mergers between distribution systems.

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    File URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00036840500309247
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    Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Applied Economics.

    Volume (Year): 37 (2005)
    Issue (Month): 20 ()
    Pages: 2373-2386

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    Handle: RePEc:taf:applec:v:37:y:2005:i:20:p:2373-2386
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    1. Sing, Merrile, 1987. "Are Combination Gas and Electric Utilities Multiproduct Natural Monopolies?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(3), pages 392-98, August.
    2. A. Yatchew, 2000. "Scale economies in electricity distribution: a semiparametric analysis," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(2), pages 187-210.
    3. Jati Sengupta, 1998. "The efficiency distribution in a production cost model," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(1), pages 125-132.
    4. Mark J. Roberts, 1986. "Economies of Density and Size in the Production and Delivery of Electric Power," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 62(4), pages 378-387.
    5. Kjell G. Salvanes & Sigve Tjøtta, 1998. "A Test for Natural Monopoly with Application to Norwegian Electricity Distribution," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer, vol. 13(6), pages 669-685, December.
    6. Roller, Lars-Hendrik, 1990. "Proper Quadratic Cost Functions with an Application to the Bell System," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 72(2), pages 202-10, May.
    7. Randy A. Nelson. & Walter J. Primeaux, Jr., 1988. "The Effects of Competition on Transmission and Distribution Costs in the Municipal Electric Industry," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 64(4), pages 338-346.
    8. Hjalmarsson, Lennart & Veiderpass, Ann, 1992. " Productivity in Swedish Electricity Retail Distribution," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 94(0), pages S193-205, Supplemen.
    9. Kaserman, David L & Mayo, John W, 1991. "The Measurement of Vertical Economies and the Efficient Structure of the Electric Utility Industry," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(5), pages 483-502, September.
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