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Diagnosing Market Power in California's Restructured Wholesale Electricity Market


  • Severin Borenstein
  • James Bushnell
  • Frank Wolak


Effective competition in wholesale electricity markets is a necessary feature of a successful electricity supply industry restructuring. We examine the degree of competition in the California wholesale electricity market during the period June 1998 to September 1999 by comparing the market prices with estimates of the prices that would have resulted if owners of instate fossil fuel generating facilities behaved as price takers. We find that there were significant departures from competitive pricing and that these departures are most pronounced during the highest demand periods, which tend to occur during the months of July through September. Through most of the winter and spring of 1999 there was little evidence of the exercise of market power. Overall, the exercise of market power raised the cost of power purchases by about 16% above the competitive level. Following the presentation of our methodology for computing the counterfactual price-taking market price, we describe why our calculation represents a lower bound on the extent of market power and why the observed market prices cannot by attributed to competitive peak-lead pricing.

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  • Severin Borenstein & James Bushnell & Frank Wolak, 2000. "Diagnosing Market Power in California's Restructured Wholesale Electricity Market," NBER Working Papers 7868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7868
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Andreas Freytag & Dirk Schiereck & Thomas W. Thomas, 2005. "Consolidation and Market Power of Energy Utilities - The case of US-American and German Utility Takeovers," Jenaer Schriften zur Wirtschaftswissenschaft (Expired!) 07/2005, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät.
    2. Carraretto, Cristian & Lazzaretto, Andrea, 2004. "A dynamic approach for the optimal electricity dispatch in the deregulated market," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 29(12), pages 2273-2287.
    3. Ritzenhofen, Ingmar & Birge, John R. & Spinler, Stefan, 2016. "The structural impact of renewable portfolio standards and feed-in tariffs on electricity markets," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 255(1), pages 224-242.
    4. Ciarreta, Aitor & Espinosa, Maria Paz & Pizarro-Irizar, Cristina, 2017. "Has renewable energy induced competitive behavior in the Spanish electricity market?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 171-182.
    5. Paul L. Joskow & Edward Kohn, 2002. "A Quantitative Analysis of Pricing Behavior in California's Wholesale Electricity Market During Summer 2000," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 4), pages 1-35.
    6. Spear, Stephen E., 2003. "The electricity market game," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 109(2), pages 300-323, April.
    7. Jason P. Martinek & Michael J. Orlando, 2002. "Neither Lucky Nor Good - The Case of Electricity Deregulation in California," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 33(1), pages 75-82.
    8. Kennedy, David, 2003. "Liberalisation of the Russian power sector," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(8), pages 745-758, June.
    9. John McMillan, 2004. "Using Markets to Help Solve Public Problems," NBER Chapters,in: Governance, Regulation, and Privatization in the Asia-Pacific Region, NBER East Asia Seminar on Economics, Volume 12, pages 73-92 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Juan Pablo Montero & Hugh Rudnick, 2001. "Precios Eléctricos Flexibles," Latin American Journal of Economics-formerly Cuadernos de Economía, Instituto de Economía. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile., vol. 38(113), pages 91-109.
    11. Nazemi, Ali & Mashayekhi, Mehdi, 2015. "Competitiveness assessment of Iran's restructured electricity market," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 308-316.
    12. Razeghi, Ghazal & Shaffer, Brendan & Samuelsen, Scott, 2017. "Impact of electricity deregulation in the state of California," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 105-115.

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