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Authors: Henry Lee
Published by: Harvard Kennedy School
Published in: 2001
Length: 16 pages

Abstract

The power shortages and blackouts of late 2000 and early 2001 drew international attention to the electricity deregulation regime adopted four years earlier by the state of California. This case provides a definitive account of the nature of that deregulation, as well as the process through which it was developed and the options considered as it was crafted. It focuses on the choices California made as it put in place a system that would divide the electricity generation, transmission and retail distribution systems that had, historically, been integrated. The case describes how California regulators and elected officials sought to maintain the operating and coordination efficiencies associated with the existing vertically- and horizontally-integrated system while allowing a competitive market to flourish. Because it stops short of describing what exactly seemed to go wrong when the power crisis hit California, the case demands discussion and analysis of the unintended consequences of the deregulation regime chosen-including the decision to fix retail prices during a transition period. It provides detailed descriptions of the role of a key new institution, the "independent system operator" and the role California chose for it to play in facilitating power transactions. This is a case which can be used both by economists and others interested in the development and implementation of regulated markets, and by political scientists interested in the way elected officials respond to the concerns of a wide variety of interest groups as they craft such regulation.

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Abstract

The power shortages and blackouts of late 2000 and early 2001 drew international attention to the electricity deregulation regime adopted four years earlier by the state of California. This case provides a definitive account of the nature of that deregulation, as well as the process through which it was developed and the options considered as it was crafted. It focuses on the choices California made as it put in place a system that would divide the electricity generation, transmission and retail distribution systems that had, historically, been integrated. The case describes how California regulators and elected officials sought to maintain the operating and coordination efficiencies associated with the existing vertically- and horizontally-integrated system while allowing a competitive market to flourish. Because it stops short of describing what exactly seemed to go wrong when the power crisis hit California, the case demands discussion and analysis of the unintended consequences of the deregulation regime chosen-including the decision to fix retail prices during a transition period. It provides detailed descriptions of the role of a key new institution, the "independent system operator" and the role California chose for it to play in facilitating power transactions. This is a case which can be used both by economists and others interested in the development and implementation of regulated markets, and by political scientists interested in the way elected officials respond to the concerns of a wide variety of interest groups as they craft such regulation.

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