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Preventing Monopoly or Discouraging Competition? The Perils of Price-Cost Tests for Market Power in Electricity

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  • Brennan, Timothy

    () (Resources for the Future)

Abstract

Allegations of market power in wholesale electricity sales are typically tested using price-cost margins. Such tests are inherently suspect in markets - such as electricity - that are subject to capacity constraints. In such markets, prices can vary with demand while quantity, and thus cost measure, remain fixed. Erroneous conclusions are more likely when the proxy for marginal cost is the average operating cost of the marginal plant. Measured this way, Lerner indexes are consistent with competitive behavior. Using this proxy to cap wholesale prices, as the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has proposed, would discourage entry by making it impossible for peak power suppliers to recover capital costs. The wholesale electricity sector may be susceptible to market power. But a preferable (if not unproblematic) test for market power would look not at prices but output, i.e., whether individual generators withheld energy that would have been profitable to supply at prevailing prices.

Suggested Citation

  • Brennan, Timothy, 2002. "Preventing Monopoly or Discouraging Competition? The Perils of Price-Cost Tests for Market Power in Electricity," Discussion Papers dp-02-50, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-02-50
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    Cited by:

    1. Nilsson, Mats & Sundqvist, Thomas, 2007. "Using the market at a cost: How the introduction of green certificates in Sweden led to market inefficiencies," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 49-59, March.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    market power; electricity; peak load pricing;

    JEL classification:

    • D42 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Monopoly
    • L11 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Production, Pricing, and Market Structure; Size Distribution of Firms
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities

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