Smith And Kiesling In The Wall Street Journal

Vernon Smith and I have a commentary in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

A systematic rethinking of the power demand and supply system — not just transmissions lines — is required to bring the energy industry into the contemporary age. Eighty-five years of regulatory efforts have focused exclusively on supply — leaving on dusty shelves proposals to empower consumer demand, to help stabilize electric systems while creating a more flexible economic environment.

Under these regulations, a pricing system has developed that is so badly structured at the critical retail level that if it were replicated throughout the economy, we would all be as poor as the proverbial church mouse. Retail customers pay averaged rates, making their demand unresponsive to changes in supply cost. Without dynamic retail pricing, no one can determine whether, when, where or how to invest in energy infrastructure. Impulsive proposals to incentivize transmission investment, without retail demand response, puts the cart before the horse and risks expensive and unnecessary investment decisions, costly to reverse. …

The implementation of retail demand response in the electric power industry would provide a wide range of benefits including lower capital and energy costs, fewer critical power spikes, consumer control over electricity prices, and the environmental benefits gained by empowering consumers to use electricity more wisely. Despite Milton Friedman’s admonition, by adding increased flexibility to the electricity grid and sparing critical infrastructure from shutdown, demand response creates a more efficient and resilient economic structure while providing more robust security as a free lunch.