Why do we need electricity retailers?; or, can you get it cheaper wholesale?
Author(s)Joskow, Paul L.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
MetadataShow full item record
The opportunities for retail electricity competition to provide new value-added services to retail electricity consumers are discussed. The physical attributes of electricity supply make many of the traditional "convenience services" provided by retailers in other industries irrelevant in electricity. In addition, these attributes provide a low-cost way for electricity consumers to buy directly in the wholesale market. In this way, retail consumers can receive the commodity price related benefits of competitive generation markets without incurring large increases in advertising, promotion and customer service costs. Electric distribution companies (UDCs) can easily provide a Basic Electricity Service (BES) that makes it possible for all consumers to buy commodity electricity in competitive wholesale electricity markets at the spot market price. The availability of BES is especially important for residential and small commercial customers for whom few new retail value-added services are evident. BES also provides an excellent competitive benchmark against which consumers can compare the value added associated with competitive supply offers from competing Electricity Service Providers (ESPs), helps to protect residential and small commercial customers from exploitation by ESPs, and mitigates wasteful expenditures on marketing and promotion by rent-seeking ESPs that will increase prices.(cont.) The availability of BES helps to channel ESP competitive efforts toward providing value added services such as real time metering and control, energy management contracts, risk hedging and forward contracting, green power and other services. This is the strategy that the most successful ESPs are pursuing. A successful retail competition program can have additional social benefits by helping to improve the performance of wholesale markets. However, efforts to use creamy "shopping credits" to subsidize ESPs are misguided, raising both efficiency and equity concerns. The success of retail competition should be judged by the new value added services it brings to the system, not by the number of customers who switch to ESPs from BES and similar default services. Regulators who focus on retail switching statistics and who are subsidizing customer switching are likely to be making residential consumers worse off than they would be if BES had been made available to them by their UDC.
MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research
MIT-CEEPR (Series) ; 00-001WP.