Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Revisiting Electricity Deregulation

Was the electricity fiasco in California inevitable? Does electricity deregulation require so much legislative finesse as to be infeasible in practice? Here's an interesting experimental economics paper that seems to suggest otherwise.

In this article we report an experiment that examines how demand-side bidding can discipline generators in a market for electric power. First we develop a treatment without demand-side bidding; two large firms are allocated baseload and intermediate cost generators such that either firm might unilaterally withhold the capacity of its intermediate cost generators from the market to benefit from the supracompetitive prices that would result from only selling its baseload units. In a converse treatment, ownership of some of the intermediate cost generators is transferred from each of these firms to two other firms such that no one firm could unilaterally restrict output to spawn supracompetitive prices. Having established a well controlled data set with price spikes paralleling those observed in the naturally occurring economy, we also extend the design to include demand-side bidding. We find that demand-side bidding completely neutralizes the exercise of market power and eliminates price spikes even in the presence of structural market power. (emphasis added)