Archive for February, 2009

Paul Joskow: What electric power regulatory reforms are need? A Federal Power Act of 2009

February 8th, 2009 No comments

Further to my previous posts, excerpted below are the recommendations that Paul Joskow (energy expert, MIT economist and current president of the Alfred P Sloan Foundationn) recently made in a speech at the National Press Club:

What is to be done?


We need to stop dealing with the electric power sector by placing band aids on the Federal Power Act of 1935. We need a comprehensive national policy for the electric power sector — a Federal Power Act of 2009 to replace the Federal Power Act of 1935. A policy that respects legitimate state rights but also reflects the contemporary attributes of electricity generation, transmission and distribution technologies, opportunities for innovation, and the public policy demands that are or will be placed on the electric power sector. While, I recognize that there are many technical differences between them, the restructuring of the U.S. natural gas industry provides a very successful basic organizational model to start with for the electric power industry. The special attributes of electricity and electricity networks can be layered on top of this model.


What provisions might a Federal Power Act of 2009 contain?


1. The economic, planning, reliability, and siting review and regulation of high voltage transmission facilities with voltages above, let’s say, 69 kv, should be federalized and the prices for transmission service over this network fully unbundled from generation and distribution service and made transparent. This would follow the structural and regulatory reform model associated with interstate pipeline transportation of natural gas and the successful implementation of electricity sector reform models introduced in other countries. Recent federal legislation effectively “federalized” reliability rules and made them mandatory. This is a step in the right direction.


2. The key provisions of FERC Order 2000 should be put into law. This would require the creation of [additional] TROs [regional transmission organizations] that manage the operation of large regional transmission networks, implement FERC’s transmission access, pricing, and planning regulations, and operate voluntary wholesale markets for electric energy, ancillary services, capacity and transmission rights. There is abundant evidence (a) that RTOs are needed to support efficient competitive markets, (b) that expanding the geographic expanse of RTOs and improving the market designs for energy, ancillary services and capacity lead to efficiency improvements, (c) and that wholesale market designs built around what is generally referred to as the “standard market design,” augmented by capacity obligations and capacity markets, promote economic efficiency.


3. Vertically integrated utilities should be required to unbundled generation service from distribution service so that their respective costs or prices are transparent. They should also be required at least to move their generation facilities to a separate generation affiliate. Existing cost-of-service arrangements governing existing generating capacity can be replicated through properly structure long-term wholesale contracts between distribution and generation affiliates that are regulated by FERC. This will preserve the imbedded economic benefits (or costs) of existing generating capacity for retail consumers. These contracts would be transparent wholesale power contracts and regulated by the FERC.


4. The states would be free to decide whether or not they wanted to introduce retail competition for some or all customer classes. Where distribution companies continue to have obligations to serve retail customers at regulated retail prices, however, they would be required to meet at least their incremental power supply needs through competitive wholesale market solicitations managed by the states using procurement mechanisms that meet reasonably flexible FERC competitive procurement criteria. In states that have already restructured and adopted a competitive wholesale market model, all default retail supply obligations would be met through approved competitive procurement programs.


5. Any federal loan guarantees available for financing nuclear, CCS, or renewable generation would be available only for “merchant” generating facilities and not to facilities subject to traditional cost-of-service regulation. Generators should get loan guarantees only once. Regulated generators can effectively get loan guarantees through cost of service regulation. Merchant generators can get similar financing relief from federal loan guarantees. This would roughly place regulated and merchant generation investment options on a level playing field.


6. [Assuming that a cap and trade program is enacted,] Any free CO2 allowances allocated to the electric power sector should go directly to electricity consumers through non-distortionary lumpsum distributions based on, say, historical consumption in a base period. All generators that emit CO2 would be required to buy allowances in the market to cover their emissions. Generators subject to cost-of-service arrangements would be allowed to pass the associated costs through the retail price regulatory process and they would be reflected in retail prices. Consumers would get a lump sum “dividend” on their bills each month for the value of the allowances allocated to them. That is, consumers would face the efficient retail price on the margin, while receiving a dividend that would not depend on whether their consumption increases or decreases, but would lower their total bills. This would then provide better retail price signals on the margin where it matters for stimulating wise consumption decisions.


7. State regulatory jurisdiction and regulation would continue over distribution facilities, sub-transmission facilities below 69 say kv, whether and how retail competition will be permitted, energy efficiency programs, and competitive procurement of generation consistent with FERC procurement criteria. This is no different from the states’ jurisdiction in the natural gas industry.  …


It will take significant political courage to design and implement a comprehensive electricity sector reform program because there are powerful interest groups that benefit from the status quo. 


(emphasis added)


I encourage interested readers to see Joskow`s full written remarks, linked above.


H/T Lynne Kiesling.

MIT economist Paul Joskow describes our current electricity regulatory framework

February 8th, 2009 2 comments

I believe that a key problem – and thus a key opportunity – that our country faces is over-regulation and misregulation of the electric power sector.  Regulatory reform in this area is a middle ground, both for enviros and those whose principle concerns are economic liberty and healthy markets.

As I noted previously, Paul Joskow, current President of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation and former head of the MIT Department of Economics (now on leave) and former director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, laid out a history of the electric power regulation and a series of regulatory reform proposals in a speech given at the National Press Club in September last year.

Here is an excerpt of his remarks on the evolution and current status of electric power regulation

For almost 50 years this sector was stuck in an organizational and regulatory framework that may have been well matched to the electricity generation and transmission technology available in 1935, but was surely poorly matched to changes in technology, new technological opportunities, contemporary investment needs, or current economic and environmental challenges. Then in the early 1980s, electricity sector reformers began to stir, responding to concerns about the system of regulated vertically integrated monopolies inherited from the 1930s. The “good old days” of regulation represent a view to the past with rose colored glasses. The system of regulated vertically integrated monopoly was plagued by cost overruns associated with nuclear power plants, poor operating performance for both nuclear and large fossil-fueled plants, poor fuel procurement decisions, wide price differences between neighboring areas, excess generating capacity, inefficient dispatch and economy energy trading between generating companies, regulatory incentives to keep old inefficient plants operating rather than retiring them, too many small utilities to take advantage of economies of scale, institutional and technological barriers to using the transmission network to access lower cost power, productivity lags, and inefficient retail prices. The system …was unnecessarily costly and inefficient.

Reformers looked to the favorable experience with restructuring, competition, and regulatory reform in other sectors and with electricity in other countries to help to solve the problems associated with the fragmented electric power sector made up of over 100 vertically integrated geographic monopolies. Municipal distribution companies and large industrial customers were especially aggressive at promoting reforms focused on open transmission access, the creation of transparent organized regional competitive wholesale markets, and (in the case of large industrial customers) retail competition.

A large number of states initially embraced this restructuring, competition, and regulatory reform vision and began to implement it. In 2000 it looked like restructuring and competitive market reforms were going to sweep the U.S. electric power industry.

Then came the California electricity crisis, the collapse of Enron and a number of merchant generating companies, increased volatility to natural gas markets and associated volatility in wholesale electricity market prices, and a long march upward in fossil fuel prices ultimately resulting in rising retail electricity prices in both regulated and restructured states. Most of the states that were leaders in restructuring during the late 1990s, when natural gas prices were low and there was excess capacity, initiated reforms during a period when regulated prices for generation service were expected to be much higher than perceived comparable competitive wholesale market prices. The expectation was that over time retail prices would fall. This forecast was based on the assumption that low prices for natural gas in particular would continue and that a new system built on efficient CCGT technology would evolve. At that time, a major “problem” that many of these states had to cope with were the “stranded generation costs,” primarily associated with what were perceived to be costly nuclear power plants, that were expected to result from the introduction of real wholesale and retail competition. This was expected to be a “transition problem” because it was expected that competition would result in market prices that would fall to levels below the embedded costs of nuclear plants and older fossil plants that would have otherwise been used to calculated (higher) regulated retail prices.

However, as natural gas and coal prices continued to rise far above anyone’s expectations, many of these states soon found that competitive market prices were rising dramatically along with natural gas prices (which affect competitive wholesale electricity prices in most regions of the country) — arguably rising to levels above what regulated prices would have been today under the status quo ante (though this requires a difficult counterfactual analysis). This, of course does not mean that these electricity sector reforms were a failure. In states that adopted the restructuring, wholesale and retail competition model, retail prices now reflect marginal supply costs, as they should to give consumers the right price signals to use electricity wisely. Rather it means that regulated prices are or would have been too low to give consumers appropriate incentives to make wise consumption decisions.

In evaluating restructuring, competition and regulatory reform one must understand all of its efficiency and distributional properties, not just at short run price effects. From an efficiency perspective, the restructuring reforms implemented at the federal level and in some states have led to numerous cost reducing successes in the face of rising fossil fuel prices.  These include dramatic improvements in the performance of divested nuclear plants, significant improvements in the performance of fossil plants that now face market incentives, roughly 200,000 GW of new (mostly merchant) gas-fired generation has been added to the system between 1999 and 2004, while the risk of cost overruns, fuel price fluctuations, demand variations, and availability problems experienced by some of these plants were shifted to their owners through the market rather than borne by consumers through cost-of-service regulation. There is good empirical evidence that the expansion of the boundaries of RTOs (e.g. PJM) have led to significant changes in power flows and more efficient dispatch of power plants, while inefficiencies are observed at the boundaries of RTOs that have not agreed to be consolidated (e.g. NY/NE). Gradual improvements in wholesale market designs have increased the efficiency of these markets and have restored investment incentives. Moreover, retail prices now respond quickly to changes in wholesale market prices, providing consumers with the right price signals rather than the wrong price signals resulting from retail price regulation. And these price signals are properly differentiated by time and location to reflect marginal supply costs, rather than the depreciated original cost of generating plants built 50 years ago. Demand management programs linked to short-term supply and demand conditions are expanding quickly as well in the reform regions.

Of course, the full reform program has not been implemented in large areas of the South, the West, and portions of the Midwest. The partial electricity reform equilibrium that we appear to be in now will not serve the country well and is potentially quite unstable. We have a system that is 1/3 reformed and 2/3 stuck in the structural and regulatory paradigm of the 1935s or somewhere in between.

The problems created by an antiquated industry structure and incompatible mix of state and federal regulation have not gone away. They are lurking out there to undermine achieving the goals that I enumerated earlier. Absent a comprehensive national electricity policy framework this sector is and will perform poorly in meeting the four sets of goals that I discussed earlier.

More later.

Update from Rob Bradley: My BOOKS prove that I'm a free-marketer! (That's why I'm free to boost fossil fuels and bash enviros on my blogs!)

February 7th, 2009 No comments

I noted in a previous post that Rob Bradley, CEO of the Institute for Energy Research and lead blogger at MasterResource, has cheered on big coal and bashed what he calls “Malthusian anti-energy crusaders”,  but ignoring while he does so the questions of (1) whether there are any legitimate disputes as to the environmental impacts of coal production and consumption and (2) the role of government in contributing to or perpetuating these disputes.

In response, Rob says that his bona fides are not to be questioned.  I quote below the relevant portions of the comment thread (emphasis added):

TokyoTom { 02.05.09 at 2:50 am }

Rob, are the John Badens, Terry Andersons, Bruce Yandles, Elinor Ostroms and others who want to find ways to manage our commons better – by improving ownership, incentives and pricing signals – also part of a “Malthusian crusade”?

I just wanna make sure I know who to hate.

As for that big fly ash breach/spill in Tennessee, I’m glad that you didn’t point out how this was a result of government ownership of TVA, with the added benefit that costs will be borne not only by direct and indirect victims, but by taxpayers as well. No sense in pointing out how government is so often in the way, particularly if it detracts from our “we hate enviros!” message. Last thing we ever want to do is to reach a shared understanding with enviros of the institutional underpinnings of problems, since that means our funders might lose some of their fairly purchased, government-given special privileges.

rbradley { 02.05.09 at 9:46 pm }


I have several thousand pages in the public domain on free market theory and history applied to energy, including criticisms of political capitalism.

The ball is in your court to buy and read any of my six energy books–and to visit my website Particularly focus on Enron on this website.

Capitalism at Work (2009) is the latest book that I invite you to read and review.

TokyoTom { 02.05.09 at 10:21 pm }

Rob, does this mean that you are a “free-marketer” in principle, but can’t be bothered to show it in your public policy discussions?

rbradley { 02.06.09 at 9:28 am }


It means that you have to do your homework. I take on opposing views as a matter of course in my books and essays–I hope you understand that I do not have time to regurgitate my arguments in a personal debate with you.

But if you are really a “libertarian,” you need to get more critical toward climate alarmism and the history of Malthusianism–and more realistic towards government failure versus market failure.

I am signing off with you but look foward to your review of Capitalism at Work–a multi-disciplinary treatise on heroic capitalism that as a libertarian you should study.

TokyoTom { 02.07.09 at 4:44 am }

Rob, Roy Cordato (linked at my name) said this:

“The starting point for all Austrian welfare economics is the goal seeking individual and the ability of actors to formulate and execute plans within the context of their goals. … [S]ocial welfare or efficiency problems arise because of interpersonal conflict. [C] that similarly cannot be resolved by the market process, gives rise to catallactic inefficiency by preventing useful information from being captured by prices.”

“Environmental problems are brought to light as striking at the heart of the efficiency problem as typically seen by Austrians, that is, they generate human conflict and disrupt inter- and intra-personal plan formulation and execution.”

“The focus of the Austrian approach to environmental economics is conflict resolution. The purpose of focusing on issues related to property rights is to describe the source of the conflict and to identify possible ways of resolving it.”

“If a pollution problem exists then its solution must be found in either a clearer definition of property rights to the relevant resources or in the stricter enforcement of rights that already exist. This has been the approach taken to environmental problems by nearly all Austrians who have addressed these kinds of issues (see Mises 1998; Rothbard 1982; Lewin 1982; Cordato 1997). This shifts the perspective on pollution from one of “market failure” where the free market is seen as failing to generate an efficient outcome, to legal failure where the market process is prevented from proceeding efficiently because the necessary institutional framework, clearly defined and enforced property rights, is not in place.”

Do you agree?

My focus in reviewing your comments and those of other posters is whether you are contributing in good faith to conflict RESOLUTION – conflict over readily understandable preferences – or to “winning” the struggle over government for the benefit of your clients.

I think that`s perfectly fair.

So far, I don`t see much of an effort at good faith engagement [with the enviros].

Here`s to hoping that you demonstrate here that you are a free-marketer, and not a rent-seeker.

Paul Joskow on needed changes to power regulation, particularly if climate legislation is passed

February 6th, 2009 No comments

A hodge-podge of state and federal regulations is keeping costs high and interfering with the development of competitive power markets.

Paul L. Joskow, current President of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation and former  Head of the MIT Department of Economics (now on leave) and former Director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, laid out a history of the electric power regulation and a series of regulatory reform proposals in a speech given at the National Press Club in September last year.

The speech is well worth reading; I will provide excerpts later. 

In the meanwhile, allow me to quote an direct summary by Lynne Kielsing at Knowledge Problem.  Kielsling, whom I have referred to before, is a well-known expert on the electric power sector, author of “Deregulation, Innovation and Market Liberalization; Electricity regulation in a continually evolving environment”, and Senior Lecturer in Northwestern U‘s Department of Economics and Kellogg School of Management.  Says Kiesling:

In brief, Joskow supports completing the task of restructuring the electric power industry by unbundling transmission, distribution, and generation in places where that action has not yet been taken, and installing voluntary RTO-type wholesale power markets in areas not yet served by an RTO.  Also, Joskow urges federal loan guarantees for merchant power companies to match the implicit loan guarantees available to state-regulated electric utilities, and wants any carbon permits given away free to go directly to consumers rather than to electric utilities.

But, you say, Joskow’s proposal would run roughshod over existing jurisdictional boundaries between state and federal government.  Yes, I say, and I think that is part of Joskow’s point.

He wrote, “Unlike every other energy sector, the electricity sector lacks a comprehensive national policy framework consistent with achieving [current policy] goals.”  Much of the nation remains stuck in an organizational and regulatory framework first established in the Federal Power Act of 1935, and federal action is required to help reorganized the industry in a manner better suited to current conditions.  Hence his suggestions for a “Federal Power Act of 2009.”

(emphasis added)

More later.

Categories: deregulation, Joskow, Kiesling, power Tags:

MIT’s "Technology Review" on the regulatory obstacles to a "smart grid" needed for open, competitive electricity markets

February 6th, 2009 No comments

David Talbot, chief correspondent for the MIT Technology Review, has an excellent, long piece in the January/February online issue that explores some the of intra- and inter-state regulatory hurdles that frustrate both the expansion of renewable power and a truly free power market.

I’d like to excerpt some portions of the article here:

When its construction began in the late 19th century, the U.S. electrical grid was meant to bring the cheapest power to the most ­people. Over the past century, regional monopolies and government agencies have built power plants–mostly fossil-fueled–as close to popu­lation centers as possible. They’ve also built transmission and distribution networks designed to serve each region’s elec­tricity consumers. A patchwork system has developed, and what connections exist between local networks are meant mainly as backstops against power outages. Today, the United States’ grid encompasses 164,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines–those familiar rows of steel towers that carry electricity from power plants to substations–and more than 5,000 local distribution networks. But while its size and complexity have grown immensely, the grid’s basic structure has changed little since Thomas ­Edison switched on a distribution system serving 59 customers in lower Manhattan in 1882. …

While this structure has served remarkably well to deliver cheap power to a broad population, it’s not particularly well suited to fluctuating power sources like solar and wind. First of all, the transmission lines aren’t in the right places. The gusty plains of the Midwest and the sun-baked deserts of the Southwest–areas that could theoretically provide the entire nation with wind and solar power–are at tail ends of the grid, isolated from the fat arteries that supply power to, say, Chicago or Los Angeles. Second, the grid lacks the storage capacity to handle variability–to turn a source like solar power, which generates no energy at night and little during cloudy days, into a consistent source of electricity. And finally, the grid is, for the most part, a “dumb” one-way system. Consider that when power goes out on your street, the utility probably won’t know about it unless you or one of your neighbors picks up the phone. …

The U.S. grid’s regulatory structure is just as antiquated. While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can approve utilities’ requests for electricity rates and license transmission across state lines, individual states retain control over whether and where major transmission lines actually get built. In the 1990s, many states revised their regulations in an attempt to introduce competition into the energy marketplace. Utilities had to open up their transmission lines to other power producers. One effect of these regulatory moves was that companies had less incentive to invest in the grid than in new power plants, and no one had a clear responsibility for expanding the transmission infrastructure. At the same time, the more open market meant that producers began trying to sell power to regions farther away, placing new burdens on existing connections between networks. The result has been a national transmission shortage.

These problems may now be the biggest obstacle to wider use of renewable energy, which otherwise looks increasingly viable. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO, have concluded that there’s no technical or economic reason why the United States couldn’t get 20 percent of its elec­tricity from wind turbines by 2030. The researchers calculate, however, that reaching this goal would require a $60 billion investment in 12,650 miles of new transmission lines to plug wind farms into the grid and help balance their output with that of other electricity sources and with consumer demand. The inadequate grid infrastructure “is by far the number one issue with regard to expanding wind,” says Steve Specker, president of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, CA, the industry’s research facility. “It’s already starting to restrict some of the potential growth of wind in some parts of the West.”

The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, which manages the grid in a region covering portions of 15 states from Pennsylvania to Montana, has received hundreds of applications for grid connections from would-be energy developers whose proposed wind projects would collectively generate 67,000 megawatts of power. That’s more than 14 times as much wind power as the region produces now, and much more than it could consume on its own; it would represent about 6 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption. But the existing transmission system doesn’t have the capacity to get that much electricity to the parts of the country that need it. In many of the states in the region, there’s no particular urgency to move things along, since each has all the power it needs. So most of the applications for grid connections are simply waiting in line, some stymied by the lack of infrastructure and others by bureaucratic and regulatory delays. …

Utilities, however, are reluctant to build new transmission capacity until they know that the power output of remote wind and solar farms will justify it. At the same time, renewable-energy investors are reluctant to build new wind or solar farms until they know they can get their power to market. Most often, they choose to wait for new transmission capacity before bothering to make proposals, says Suedeen Kelly, a FERC commissioner. “It is a chicken-and-egg type of thing,” she says. …

Smart-grid technologies could reduce overall electricity consumption by 6 percent and peak demand by as much as 27 percent. The peak-demand reductions alone would save between $175 billion and $332 billion over 20 years, according to the Brattle Group, a consultancy in Cambridge, MA. Not only would lower demand free up transmission capacity, but the capital investment that would otherwise be needed for new conventional power plants could be redirected to renewables. That’s because smart-grid technologies would make small installations of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels much more practical.  …

The good news is that many utilities have begun installing the requisite meters–ones that intelligently monitor power flow out of a house as well as into it. The question now is how to move beyond the blizzard of pilot projects, install smarter technologies across the grid, and begin integrating more renewable power into the new infrastructure. “The smart-grid vision is nice; we all have our color PowerPoint slides,” says Don Von Dollen, who manages intelligent-­grid research at EPRI. “I think people kind of get the vision by now. Now it’s time to get stuff done.”  …

Last summer, former vice president Al Gore began arguing that the country needed to implement an entirely carbon-free electricity system within a decade to avert the danger of global warming. As part of his vision, Gore called for a “unified national smart grid” that would move power generated from renewable sources to cities, increase the efficiency of electricity use, and allow for greater control over renewable resources. He estimated that the grid overhaul would cost $400 billion over 10 years.  …

While pilot projects like the one in Boulder are worthwhile as a way to demonstrate new technologies, they’ve been implemented in hodgepodge fashion, with different utilities deploying different technologies in different states. Transmission projects are advancing incrementally, but they’re often complicated by conflicts between the states. “What we have today is this patchwork of rules and regulations that vary by state,” says Peter Corsell, CEO of GridPoint, a startup in Arlington, VA, that makes smart-grid software and is participating in the Boulder project. “We are all entrenched in this broken system, and there is no agreement on how to fix it. It’s a vicious circle.

Some think that the answer is to give FERC more ­authority. Today, the agency can overrule states’ decisions on where to site transmission lines, but only in regions that the U.S. Department of Energy has designated as critical for the security of the elec­tricity supply. So far, only two such corridors have been designated: one in the mid-Atlantic states and another in the Southwest. Even in those regions, delays continue. Southern California Edison has proposed a major transmission line in the southwest corridor; stretching from outside Los Angeles to near Phoenix, AZ, it would be able to handle power generated by future photovoltaic and solar-thermal power plants. But Arizona rejected the idea, so the utility is preparing to take its plans to FERC.

Others think the solution is a new federal policy that would make the market for renewable power more lucrative, perhaps by regulating carbon dioxide emissions, as the cap-and-trade policy proposed by Obama would do. Under such a policy, wind energy and other carbon-free electricity sources would become much more valuable, providing an incentive for utilities to expand their capacity to handle them (see “Q&A,” p. 28). “It could all change very fast,” says Will Kaul, vice president for transmission at Great River Energy in Minnesota, who heads a joint transmission planning effort that includes 11 utilities in the Midwest.  …

[A]n explosion in the use of renewables will depend heavily on upgrading the grid. That won’t come cheap, but the payoff may be worth it. “We should think about this in the same way we think about the role of the federal highway system,” says Ernest Moniz, a physics professor at MIT who heads the school’s energy research initiative. “It is the key enabler to allow us to modernize our whole electricity production system.”

(emphasis added)

One would think that deregulation of state utilities would also be a step in the direction of freeing up markets, introducing competiion and incentivizing both new grid investments and profitting from efficiency improvements.

In any case, I hope to vist this subject in other posts.

Categories: power, regulation Tags:

Rob Bradley: EXTRA! In tough times, economy and jobs trump enviro priorities!

February 5th, 2009 No comments

Wow, what startling news.  Thanks for sharing it with us Rob.  Now perhaps you can catch your breath.

Rob Bradley trumpets an opinion poll that indicates that voters care more about more immediate and pressing issues than they do about distant problems like climate change that they can pass off to their children and others, queries in his headline “Global Warming Realism over Alarmism: Is the Public Leading?” and tells us:

Wow, what a victory for energy and climate realism in regard to an issue that future historians might consider to be the Malthusians’ last stand (am I too optimistic?).  …

What might such poll results mean at some of America’s top private foundations that have spent so much time and money hyping the climate issue, including the Pew Foundation itself? … 

Here’s hoping that these foundations demote climate alarmism in favor of meeting here-and-now human needs during these tough economic times. That would be a double win.

It’s hard to see on what basis Bradley sees the poll as particularly revealing, but it is interesting that he hopes that other private foundations – funded by wealthy individuals and firms that have different policy priorities than the individuals and firms that fund Rob’s own foundation, Institute for Energy Research (including, until recently, Exxon), and other foundations that Rob is associated with (Cato and CEI) – will change THEIR priorities to match HIS.  Not a bad idea, to be sure, but is Rob holding out any olive branches or otherwise trying to productive engage PEW or others?  Or is it just that his preferences (and those of the people/firms that fund him) are so obviously better, and ridicule works better than discourse?

Here’s to hoping that Rob Bradley (and foundations that he associates with) will explore ways to engage productively with the evil/idiotic climate alarmists/Malthusians, with the goal of meeting human energy AND environmental needs through better functioning markets. That would be a double win.

Oh, and here are the comments I left to Rob on his post:

No, Rob, the public trails. Not particularly a surprise for a long-term commons problem, especially when we’ve fallen into a depression.

Thank goodness, ‘cuz us Austrians never want to figure out how to address commons problems. At least not ones involving fossil fuels.

Categories: energy, Rob Bradley Tags:

Rob Bradley cheers on coal, but are all those who want to better manage commons and environmental impacts "Malthusian" idiots, or only in the case of coal?

February 5th, 2009 No comments

Rob Bradley has a new post up at MasterResource, cheering on big (and now “clean”) coal, which has apparently received assurances from the Obama administration – after being bad-mouthed by NASA scientist Jim Hansen, Steven Chu and Obama himself – that, despite pressures from the “Malthusian anti-energy crusade” regarding climate change impacts, the recent massive TVA fly-ash spill and opposition to destructive mountaintop removal practices in Appalachia, coal will remain profitable during Obama’s term and central to US energy supplies.  Hooray!

But I wasn’t quite clear on all of Rob’s message, so I asked him a few questions in the comment thread:

Rob, are the John Badens, Terry Andersons, Bruce Yandles, Elinor Ostroms and others who want to find ways to manage our commons better – by improving ownership, incentives and pricing signals – also part of a[n evil] “Malthusian crusade”?

I just wanna make sure I know who to hate.

As for that big fly-ash breach/spill in Tennessee, I’m glad that you didn’t point out how this was a result of government ownership of TVA, with the added benefit that costs will be borne not only by direct and indirect victims, but by taxpayers as well. No sense in pointing out how government is so often in the way, particularly if it detracts from our “we hate enviros!” message. Last thing we ever want to do is to reach a shared understanding with enviros of the institutional underpinnings of problems, since that means our funders might lose some of their fairly purchased, government-given special privileges.

While it’s clear that “free-market” Rob cares little about whether the coal industry continues commercial activities that shift the environmental costs and risks (including potential costs arising from GHG emissions) to others, I forgot to ask Rob whether, as a hearty cheerleader for those poor coal underdogs, he also supports their position that the government should subsidize their change in business model by (a) having Uncle Sam pay the bulk of capital costs for IGCC (integrated gas combined cycle plant) [something like $1 billion for the first one with CCS], (b) giving them a further break (reduced royalties) on the sweet deals they already have for stripping coal from public lands and (c) – now that the federal government is getting into the busy of running the financial sector – making sure that power producers that want to use coal have easy access to credit, by twisting the arms of those uppity Wall Street financiers who with their fancy new “Carbon Principles” and “Enhanced Due Diligence” seem a bit too reluctant to extend credit for coal-fired power plants.

Here’s hoping Rob weighs in further.  I want to make sure I’m not messing up when I try to distinguish the “white hats” from the “black hats”.   From what I can tell so far, seeking to manipulate government policy for your own benefit is evil – as long as you’re not a coal firm, and we call the evil ones “Malthusians”.  Right?

Bob Murphy – fan of cost-benefit analysis (in the face of climate risks)!

February 4th, 2009 3 comments

Austrian-leaning economist Bob Murphy, whose efforts last year to discount the work of Yale’s William Nordhaus on how cost-benefit analysis merits current action on climate change I previously examined, is back with more, this time defending Nordhaus’ work from the criticism that I alerted him to by Martin Weitzman with respect to limits on the usefulness of CBA in the event of uncertainty (‘fat tails”). 

Bob, in a post on MasterResource, explains that Nordhaus has reviewed Weitzman’s work and found limits to it.  But he fails both to address most of the points I raised previously, including whether CBA is consistent with Austrian perspectives, and to note that Nordhaus still supports action now to price carbon.

I left the following comment with Bob at the MasterResource thread:

Bob, while you’re shoring up “cost-benefit analysis” – the tool of states and bureaucrats everywhere – perhaps you may care to address the point that, under traditional libertarian analysis, if anyone can demonstrate that others’ GHG emissions negatively affect his property (by altering temperatures, rainfall or causing flooding), he has the right to enjoin ALL such activities (and is not compelled to suffer them, subject to whatever compensation he can collect)?

Perhaps the “excitableness” of the “alarmists” may have something to do with the problems of collective action and public choice – viz., in circumstances where pollution laws and regulations provide effective “rights to pollute”, and where emissions are worldwide, how does one deal with existing rent-seekers and move the state, and do it in a meaningful way? There are plenty of private initiatives underway, and even though Austrians dissaprove of efforts to use the state, surely they can understand calls to group action, and that many of the “alarmists” sincerely believe that a fight over the wheel of government is inescapable.

Fundamental Austrian analysis straigthforwardly discussed the problems of conflicting preferences in the absence of property rights and where states are involved, but your lack of understanding or sympathy is rather striking. Why you think it helpful to label one side – a huge swath of people and organizations including Exxon and the Catholic Church – as “alarmists” while ignoring not only the institutional problem but those who profit from the status quo is rather beyond me.

Also, why so little interest in exploring policy options that you would support, like allowing immediate depreciation of capital investment and further public utility deregulation?

 Roger Koppl, another commenter, raised similar questions:

How do you square Nordhaus’s CBA with “Austrian” (or computable economics) arguments about complexity and the difficulty of prediction? Why shouldn’t we chastise Nordhaus for hubris? The pretense of knowledge and all that.

More later.

Categories: Bob Murphy, carbon pricing, Nordhaus, Weizman Tags:

"Free market" Rob Bradley prefers to mock enviros rather than to make common cause

February 4th, 2009 No comments

Robert L. Bradley, Jr. is an energy expert (author, former speechwriter for Key Lay and director of public policy analysis at Enron, founder and CEO of Institute for Energy Research) with libertarian leanings. 

But in a series of posts on climate issues on the recently launched  “free market” energy group blog MasterResource that he spearheads, Rob doesn’t come off as much of a libertarian, free-market guy as he suggests, since he doesn’t so much advocate for free market approaches to such issues as he takes evident pleasure in mocking enviros (and the preferences they share with many others) – all while ignoring that the status quo isn’t free of rent-seekers (precisely as Roderick Long and Ed Dolan have criticized libertarians).

1.  Take, for example, his January 25 post, Why Do the Alarmists Feel Bad About Debates–and Debating?.  In this post, Rob examines an online debate between scientist Joe Romm of Climate Progress and Jerry Taylor of Cato, notes that Joe later seems to acknowledge that Jerry did better in the debate, but skips over some of Joe’s chief criticisms of “skeptic” opponents by concluding:

Mr. Romm has all but conceded that the skeptics of climate alarmism beat the alarmists in debate, posting about it here and here. He blames it on the dishonesty of the “deniers,” but in fact they might have a much stronger intellectual and practical case. And I dare say that Romm does not feel he did particularly well against Taylor in their online debate and is not itching to debate him again, particularly in person.

But if I am wrong, I say: let’s get a big audience for it. Make the stakes high. Sell tickets. Poll the audience. It will be that entertaining!

Here was my comment to Rob:

Well Rob, Joe Romm isn’t ALL alarmists, but I’d say it’s rather clear that he’s saying that “scientists” are not good policy debaters – as it’s something that they’re not trained in. I suppose you would hardly disagree.

On top of that, Joe Romm and others simply are not trained in public choice or Austrian perspectives on political economy issues, so he clearly doesn’t understand what Jerry patiently tries to explain. But there’s rather alot of that to go around – across the political spectrum and on many, many issues – and I rather fail to understand how mocking that who lack understanding is a good way to open their minds to how wealth creation occurs and to the perils of using the state.

In addition, Jerry Taylor is clearly different from – more open and intellectually honest – most of the other debaters Joe Romm refers to.

2.  In another thread, Rob suggested that “doing nothing” was the preferred policy approach to climate; thankfully, in response to a comment from me, Rob expressly noted that

a free-market approach is not about “do nothing” but implementing a whole new energy approach to remove myriad regulation and subsidies that have built up over a century or more.

Great!  Inquiring minds are waiting to hear about what it is that Rob Bradley and others at “MasterResource” actually recommend as an approach to climate concerns!

Meanwhile, can we stop pretending that “enviros” are the only ones fighting over the wheel of government, much less that they can hold a candle to wealthy corporate insiders?

In the fight over climate policy, Jerry Taylor of Cato tries to stiffen the spines of the purist enviros (in order to limit the "Bootleggers")

February 4th, 2009 No comments

Jerry Taylor of Cato is one careful observer of the carbon follies who sees the handwriting on the wall for some type of carbon pricing system coming from the Congress during the Obama Administration.  Strikingly, in an interesting post up at MasterResource (a new self-styled “free market” energy blog spearheaded by former Enron speechwriter Robert Bradley), Jerry is cheering on environmental hard-liners!

It’s worth a gander to understand why.

Jerry’s post borrows the “Bootleggers and Baptists” lingo of Bruce Yandle to comment on the dynamics by which both  Baptists/moralists (in this case, the enviros) and the bootleggers/rent-seekers (in this case, the firms trying to reap benefits from government prohibitions) are seeking to come to terms on new carbon-related government policies.  Jerry  first explains and warns that the core of the mandatory cap-and-trade program proposed by the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP a coalition of big business and environmental groups) includes “a replay of the old-source/new-source standards incorporated in the Clean Air Act (CAA), which likewise established tough emissions standards for future power plants but much lighter rules for plants currently in operation”.

Because his concern over this replay of a costly aspect of the CAA, Jerry cheers on the criticism of this plan coming from other parts of the environmental community, in particular from Joe Romm, a former Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy who comments frequently on climate change policy issues at the blog of the Center for American Progress.  Says Jerry:

Why should a libertarian skeptic about the dangers of climate change applaud environmental absolutism in this case? Several reasons.

First, the bifurcated old-source/new-source regulation makes no economic sense whatsoever. It distorts the power market by artificially advantaging older plants relative to newer plants. It spawns a huge legislative/legal-industry to fight over old-source/new-source distinctions until the end of time, creating substantial deadweight losses. It creates huge, unearned windfalls for politically clever corporations and thus encourages future market-rigging mischief. It would be far, far better to settle on one standard and apply it across the board to old sources and new sources alike.

Second, without corporate support, … that bill would likely be rendered economically toothless, with loopholes and timetables delaying serious emissions reductions until some time relatively far into the future. I am unaware of any significant environmental initiative that was successfully signed into law that didn’t manage to scare-up significant, widespread corporate support.

Third, there is a virtue in political honesty. If politicians want to argue for laws that will seriously reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, then let’s have an honest discussion about the costs and benefits of those proposed laws. Symbolically potent gestures that are more empty than real feeds the public belief in free lunches. While one could argue that it’s better to get an empty gesture than a real one, when the latter has far more costs than the former, I can’t believe that any good will come from a culture of political dishonesty and voter illusion.

(emphasis added)

Well, I agree that casting a light on potential political deals may be a valuable way to influence the outcome in ways that improve policy, but it may very well be that voter “dis-illusion” with political dishonesty is just what the doctor ordered, in getting voters to demand both greater honesty and less government in general.

I appreciate that guys like Jerry Taylor are trying to point out how members of USCAP are trying to lock in advantages for themselves over competitors and new entrants, but why isn’t there now (and why wasn’t there during the Bush administration) any concerted focus by libertarians on less-costly and market-friendly alternatives that still address enviros concerns, like public utility deregulation and allowing immediate depreciation of investments in energy inffrastructure, prizes for carbon-capture and fusion technologies, and making sure that information about climate change (and corporate performance on various yardsticks) is widely disseminated? 

As I have previously noted,  Iain Murray of CEI, Bruce Yandle of Clemson and PERC, Gene Callahan and Jonathan Adler at Case Western have all made suggestions in this regard – to deafening silence from libertarians in general.  At Mises, scorn of enviros and of their preferences with respect to open-access commons seems to be the order of the day.  Let’s wave the white flag, shall we?