The Public Interest

A new era for public utilities

Irwin M. Stelzer

Fall 1994

THE ELECTRIC UTILITY industry has come a long way since the early 1970s. The idea that its pricing structures should be based on economic principles, rather than merely reflect attempts to cross-subsidize this or that politically potent customer group, is now widely accepted. The need to include externalities—environmental and other costs incident to power production—in prices is no longer contested; indeed, the problem now is the infinite ingenuity displayed by environmentalists in discovering externalities, and the creative methods developed to magnify them. The idea that competition, where feasible, produces more efficient results than does regulation is contested only by those whose affinity for central planning blinds them to the recent experience of both nations and industries.  And the view that capital cannot be conscripted, either by utility executives with wild plans for investing in non-competitive new (mostly nuclear’.) facilities, or by regulators who would like to transfer wealth from shareholders to customers, is unchallenged— at least in principle.

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