According to a new study we have conducted at Resource Data International, the continuing transformation from a regulated industry to a fully competitive industry will create substantial opportunities for new generating companies. With the implementation of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and the FERC's Orders 888 and 889, competition has been introduced into wholesale power markets. It is limited in scope, however, as utilities are still able to recover their fixed generation costs and embedded cost of capital from their captive retail markets. The guaranteed recovery of fixed costs gives utilities a competitive advantage over new market entrants and creates distorted competition in wholesale power markets. When each generator must recover all of its costs from market-based revenues, new opportunities will be created for merchant power plants.
Most regions of the U.S. currently have excess capacity. At RDI we expect that reserve margins will shrink rapidly when full competition is introduced into the industry. Experience in already deregulated generation markets provides insight into trends one can expect to see in the U.S. In 1993 the National Grid Company in Britain forecast a reserve margin of more than 30 percent for the 1995/96 year. By 1995, the reserve margin fell to 16 percent. In short, the opening of markets in Britain forced the closure of 26 percent of the capacity in the market in a five-year span. At the same time, 10.4 gW (or 15 percent of the capacity in the market) of new capacity entered the market. If the British experience applies to U.S. markets, then clearly, many of the highest cost generation facilities will be eliminated from the grid, shrinking reserve margins.