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

Listed author(s):
  • Bushnell, James

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.

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Paper provided by Iowa State University, Department of Economics in its series Staff General Research Papers Archive with number 13140.

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Date of creation: 01 Jan 2005
Handle: RePEc:isu:genres:13140
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