Market power after two years.
Robert McCullough is the managing partner of an energy consulting firm—McCullough Research—based in Portland, Ore. The firm specializes in business and public policy issues throughout the United States and Canada. McCullough Research also represents industries in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, and Utah. Before starting McCullough Research, Mr. McCullough was an officer at Portland General Corporation where he had responsibilities in finance, power marketing, and rate setting. He was educated at Reed College, Portland State University, and Cornell University in economics and finance. He is a member of the American Economics Association, the American Financial Association, and the Econometric Association. Mr. McCullough is also an Adjunct Professor at Portland State University.
Two years ago, the California market erupted in a year-long series of emergencies, price spikes, and financial crises. For a short while, a well-fueled public relations campaign had much of the world convinced that the state had run out of electric generating capacity as a result of its own unrealistic environmentalism.1 Now that the storm has seemingly passed, the more dispassionate view that this was market failure, rather than resource shortage, is gradually gaining the upper hand.
From the beginning, the electric industry was poorly prepared to handle a major market failure. The Western Systems Coordinating Council (WSCC)-the body tasked with the electric reliability of the West Coast of Canada, the United States, and Northern Mexico-never took an effective role in the crisis. Indeed, most of the debaters never even noticed that the West Coast had a reliability council that had been studying electric reliability issues since 1967. The WSCC, itself unfamiliar with a role that would bring it in conflict with its member systems, has never directly commented on the origin of California's problems.
The crisis in California ended with a whimper, not a bang. Although predictions for the summer of 2001 were catastrophic, the last California emergency took place soon after the implementation of a regional price cap. Simply stated, the crisis turned out to be a problem in institutions and not resources.