Archive for the ‘deregulation’ Category

Stop the nuclear industry bailout

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

And now a public service market  announcement (with the captioned title) from your friendly local mankind-hating envirofascist, courtesy of Dave Schwab of Green Change, who is apparently the author of the following missive that found its way into my email inbox:

Dear Tokyo,

President Obama has proposed a whopping $54 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power plants.

What does that mean? If the costly new nuclear plants aren’t finished, then taxpayers cover the huge financial loss.

If they are built, then we’re stuck with power plants that generate
overpriced electricity and create deadly radioactive waste that will
remain toxic for thousands of years.

Either way, the nuclear industry wins, and we lose.

Tell President Obama to stop the nuclear power boondoggle.

Nuclear power creates deadly radioactive waste, from the mining process
onwards.   It’s got a scary history: think Chernobyl and Three Mile

Just recently, a nuclear plant in Vermont was ordered shut down after
radioactive tritium, which is linked to cancer, leaked from the plant
into local water supplies.

Nuclear power is so financially risky that even Wall Street won’t bet
on it.  It’s a public health and financial disaster waiting to happen.

Instead, our government should promote energy efficiency and a
decentralized power system based on safe, clean, renewable energy.

Tell President Obama today: don’t risk our future with nuclear power subsidies!


Dave Schwab

Online organizer
Green Change

Note that I strongly disagree that nuclear power presents serious health risks; it seems to me that the health hazards and risks from nuclear power activities are orders of magnitude less than those presented by coal and other fossil fuels. Nuclear “waste” has been well-managed, and is waste only because the government has stopped industry from re-using it as fuel in breeder reactors. So while I understand the “scary” nuclear power theme (a consequence of the massive and counterproductive role of government in developing and testing nuclear weapons), I think it is counterproductive.

I am in favor of nuclear power (though NOT in favor of subsidies), and believe we’d see alot more if coal was full-costed (it receives federal and state subsidies via licenses to mine, pollute the air and pollute land and water with wastes). I’ve blogged more on nuclear power here. As Cato’s Jerry Taylor put it: Nuclear power is “solar power for conservatives” and needs “a policy of tough love”.

However, I do feel strongly that we ought to encourage energy efficiency – by removing public utility power monopolies.

We ought likewise to eliminate subsidies for other types of power production, and instead let free markets and consumer and investor choice work their wonders.

Beyond zero-sum games: liberal press is starting to realize how state grants of monopolies to public utilities are the chief obstacle to energy efficiency!

October 15th, 2009 No comments

Michael Giberson at Knowledge Problem points to recent press coverage of the profoundly negative and perverse role being played by public utilities and their regulators.

Who knows, but isn`t there an opportunity here for market liberals and environmentalists to push for deregulation and greater competition in retail power markets, spearheaded by the federal government, and to have a deregulatory effort included in the climate bill?

Says Giberson: (emphasis in original)

The New Republic has an excellent article by Bradford Plumer about the current state of the electric power industry and the prospects of the industry achieving what diverse interests expect of it. (Yes, in TNR, who’d a thunk it?)
The article highlights the political economy of regulated electric
utilities and their immense lobbying savvy and political sway, and how
the existing regulatory framework acts to perpetuate the status quo.

The article leads off with an anecdote about Tom Casten
wishing to develop a combined heat and power (CHP) plant for a chemical
plant in Louisiana in the early 2000s
– you know, one of those
win-win-win projects that recycle waste heat to make electric power,
reduce air emissions, reduce costs to the industrial company host, and
still makes a profit for the CHP company. The proposed project
never got off the ground due to the lack of support from the local
utility, and that lack of support was attributed to a regulatory
structure which rewards utilities for owning power plants rather than
minimizing the cost of power to consumers.

The article goes on to tell more stories, and delves into issues
like renewable portfolio standards, distributed power, smart grid
visions, and how a mostly-regulated industry is going to do tackle all
of these changes while not upsetting existing political deals and
getting paid a fair rate of return.

Giberson further reports on another story:

A story posted Tuesday at the New York TimesGreen Inc. blog provides another example: “Discord Over Regulation of Car Charging.”
The story reports that the three major regulated electric utilities in
California each advocate different models for the regulation (or not)
of electric car charging stations by the California Public Utilities
Commission. Entrepreneurial companies like Better Place, trying
desperately to provide the electric vehicles that many consumers,
environmentalists, and policymakers say the country desperately needs,
find themselves caught in a regulatory battle.


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.

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:

[Update: Comments added] Iain Murray: Another libertarian makes climate policy proposals!

June 17th, 2008 No comments

Thank goodness!  Another libertarian/conservative (see my previous posts on Bruce Yandle and Gene Callahan, and see Jon Adler`s 2000 piece) wants to seize the day and promote useful policies in the face of popular/legislative concerns over climate change.

This time, it’s Iain Murray, the CEI policy analyst, polemicist and sharp-tongued scourge of enviros (his book, The Really Inconvenient Truths, and ongoing “Planet Gore” posts at NRO blame enviros for many problems).

While Iain helpfully spells out on his blog a number of areas where deregulation is needed, he also surprising provides quite an extensive (and expensive) list of statist, big-government initiatives.  The statist agenda Murray suggests is certainly worth considering, but where have all the true libertarians – the ones who think that government is best ignored, and not redirected – gone?

Iain’s proposals come from a longer blog post, as part of a dialog with Roger Pielke, Jr.  who has recently made some policy proposals of his own.  Here are Iain`s proposal`s, with a thought or two from me in brackets (and some formatting tweaks to enhance readability):


Here’s what I think a global warming policy acceptable to most conservatives would comprise of.

Title I: Technology & Mitigation

a) Remove regulatory barriers to innovation and deployment

– remove barriers to new or upgraded facilities that would reduce emissions eg New Source Review

– remove regulatory performance standards that act as a barrier to developing better performance

– remove barriers to developing & introducing biotechnology that could significantly increase food supplies in the developing world and create greater yield per acre in the US, allowing cropland to return to nature

– remove barriers to developing & introducing nanotechnology

[Um, Iain, could you be a little more clear about what barriers you specifically have in mind, so we can examine them more closely and help push on them?  Are these different from allowing accelerated or immediate depreciation, or lowering capital gains taxes?]

b) Reform and expand federal energy R&D program (this would form and should be sold as a major part of the “mitigation effort” of the program)

– replace current federal grant system with a program based on prizes, thereby removing political patronage, obviating the “picking winners” problem and removing what amount to subsidies to established energy firms

[I`m with Iain on this, and it deserves to be said more loudly and with as much support as possible.  We need a spotlight on our Congresscritters and regulators if we want to have any hope of controlling the wasteful, great pork machine.]

– expand energy R&D to $6-7 billion, paid for by budget cuts elsewhere (eg by privatizing Amtrak) and use “matching funds” program to begin to attract private money

[How is this consistent with Iain`s previous point?  Sure, his proposal is careful to offset new programs with cuts from others, but how likely is that?  In any event, why should the government be choosing what energy technologies to favor?]

c) Institute geo-engineering research program separate from energy R&D and climate science research program. Concentrate climate research in areas of improving predictive capacity of models.

[Is Iain implying that the problem is so urgent that geo-engineering is going to be required, and that government should do it?  And why should government, rather than the private sector, be working on improving the predictive capability of models?]

d) Abolish all subsidies to energy companies, reducing emissions quickly without introducing carbon tax

[It would be nice if Iain could clarify what subsidies he has have in mind.  And if the government should do ANYTHING other than deregulate, I have have a hard time understanging why CEI does not simply come out in favor of fully-rebated carbon taxes, like AEI and others]

e) Repeal corn ethanol program in its entirety as likely to increase GHG emissions and contributing to increased hunger; redirect subsidies to new energy R&D program

f) Abolish barriers to sugar ethanol imports

[I agree on the above two]


Title II: Adaptation

a) Institute Adaptation Fund/Program to be based on successful AIDS/communicable disease aid program to fund worthwhile “no regrets” adaptation efforts in developing world; increase contribution to malaria control in the disease project.

[Um, how much money are we talking here, Iain?  Are you conceding that the West somehowhas an obligation to help developing countries – which are expected to bear the brunt of climate change costs, even as they are least prepared to adapt?  Or is providing such help in our self-interest?  And what gives you any confidence that such development assistance will actually make any difference, and not be wasted or siphoned off by elites?]

b) Institute domestic adaptation research program to assess feasibility of projects to stem effects of sea level rise etc

[Why is this a task for government?  Do we think government will handle these programs better than the Army Corps of Engineers handles levees and other moral-hazard generating boodoggles?]

c) Abolish “moral hazard” federal programs like coastal flood insurance etc that create incentives to live in/develop vulnerable areas

[Fine, but see b)]

d) Free up transportation market

– reform Air Traffic Control system to allow ‘free flight’ and ‘green landings,’ saving up to 25% of airline emissions

– remove regulatory barriers to highway construction to reduce congestion and associated “wasted” emissions

[Not sure what barriers you`re referring to, Iain.  How about getting the government out of the road-building and owning businesses completely, and letting private firms build, own and operate them, including levying market-clearing fees that will speed traffic and manage capacity?]

– reform zoning regulations to reduce barriers to telecommuting


– reduce barriers to construction of heavy rail infrastructure to allow more shipping by rail and reduce highway congestion

[What barriers?  If we simply stopped public subsidies to highway construction we`d likely see great rail demand, but what “barriers” are there that we need government to do anything about?  There are lots of underused rights-of-way already, aren`t there?]

e) Free up electricity market

– remove regulatory barriers to new construction of nuclear plants; allow reprocessing or open Yucca Mountain

[Perhaps we should start by removing the insurance subsidy for nuclear power?  Eliminating the NRC isn`t going to happen, so you need to be more specific.  And why should citizens be paying for permanent waste storage, instead of the utlities?]

– eliminate local and national monopoly franchises

– remove barriers to distributed generation such as microturbines

[I agree on the above two]

f) Free up domestic energy exploration

– End restrictions in ANWR and OCS as an energy security measure

[The key is to end politicized control, not to run roughshod over conservationists.  If we are serious about ANWR, we ought to simply cede it to the Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy.  They would certainly pump from it AND protect it, and use the revenues to support more important conservation projects.   As for the OCS, exploration is limited only because states don`t want to bear the burden of pollution risks with a slim share of revenues.  With more generous revenue sharing, more OCS development will occur.]

– Allow exploitation of Rocky Mountains gas reserves etc as viable competitor to coal

[This is already happening, at the expense of ranchers and other rights owners, with inadequate compensation for damages. Developers should bear all risks of environmental claims.]

Title III: Resiliency

a) Set up Global Resiliency body to incorporate/replace Millennium Challenge Corporation and concentrate on spreading property rights, rule of law etc around world. Utilize Hernando de Soto’s expertise in setting this up. Particular responsibilities should include encouraging institutional reforms on disease, food supplies, water supplies, coastal defense and biodiversity.

[Kinda thin on justification, detail and burden-sharing Iain.  What grounds do you have for thinking that ANY state-directed “development” programs will not be hijacked by elites or mismanaged by bureacrats?  Are you becoming a soft-hearted enviro/liberal?]

b) Create a Global Free Trade Area by a provision allowing GFTA members free access to US markets on the condition that they reciprocate to the US and other GFTA members. USTR would certify. GFTA membership would be granted on the basis of an objective analysis of the country’s commitment to free trade (eg Heritage Index). Tspotlighthis will enprogramscousomehow hasboondogglesrage trade liberalization and tutilitieshereby resiliency.

c) Expand Asia-Pacific Partnership to encourage and facilitate technology transfer to developing world.

[Kinda thin on justification, detail and burden-sharing Iain.  What grounds do you have for thinking that ANY state-directed “development” programs will not be hijacked by elites or mismanaged by bureaucrats?  Are you becoming bureaucratsa soft-hearted enviro/liberal?]