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Looking for Trouble: Competition Policy in the U.S. Electricity Industry

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  • Bushnell, James

Abstract

In the aftermath of the California energy crisis, there has been a shift in the focus of electricity regulators away from the fostering of a competitive market structure and towards the application of regulations to specific market outcomes. Such a focus stands in marked contrast to the general principles governing competition policies in other industries. This shift is in part influenced by the clear failure of earlier attempts to establish a competitive market structure in California. But was this a failure of the policy, or of the tools that were used to implement it? In this chapter, I describe the tests historically used by regulators as screens for the potential abuse of market power by suppliers. More advanced methods, such as models of oligopoly competition, can potentially provide a much better understanding of the competitive outlook for a market. However, much uncertainty surrounds the development and application of such models. I apply an oligopoly model of the California market to actual market data to test the ability of such models to recreate true market outcomes. I also explore the potential impact of an alternative plan for the divestiture of California's thermal generation units. The results indicate that a more substantial, but still plausible, reduction in supplier concentration would have saved consumers nearly $2 billion during the summer of 2000.

Suggested Citation

  • Bushnell, James, 2005. "Looking for Trouble: Competition Policy in the U.S. Electricity Industry," Staff General Research Papers Archive 13140, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:isu:genres:13140
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    Cited by:

    1. Evans, Lewis & Counsell, Kevin & Guthrie, Graeme, 2006. "Options Provided by Storage can Explain High Electricity Prices," Working Paper Series 3943, Victoria University of Wellington, The New Zealand Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation.
    2. David P. Brown & Andrew Eckert, 2017. "Electricity market mergers with endogenous forward contracting," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 51(3), pages 269-310, June.
    3. James Bushnell, 2007. "Oligopoly equilibria in electricity contract markets," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 32(3), pages 225-245, December.
    4. Evans, Lewis & Guthrie, Graeme & Lu, Andrea, 2013. "The role of storage in a competitive electricity market and the effects of climate change," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 405-418.
    5. Lewis Evans & Graeme Guthrie & Steen Videbeck, 2008. "Assessing The Integration Of Electricity Markets Using Principal Component Analysis: Network And Market Structure Effects," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(1), pages 145-161, January.
    6. Barquin, J. & Boots,M. G. & Ehrenmann, A. & Hobbs, B.F. & Neuhoff, K. & Rijkers, F. A. M., 2004. "Network-constrained models of liberalized electricity markets: the devil is in the details," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0405, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    7. Geoff Bertram & Dan Twaddle, 2005. "Price-Cost Margins and Profit Rates in New Zealand Electricity Distribution Networks Since 1994: the Cost of Light Handed Regulation," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 27(3), pages 281-308, January.
    8. Pittman, Russell, 2007. "Restructuring the Russian electricity sector: Re-creating California?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 1872-1883, March.

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