Thursday, November 03, 2005

Energy: to regulate or not to regulate...

Since I wrote the only definitive history of energy in California, Energy and the Making of Modern California, several people have asked me to comment on Proposition 80, which seeks to re-regulate California electric power companies.

The energy crisis in 2001 was a crisis of greed more than one of energy supply. To be sure, power marketers and power generators behaved just the way capitalists are expected to behave: they took care of their investors by exacting the best price they possibly could get for their product. Like manufacturers who advertise shoddy products as "meeting or exceeding government standards," price-gouging energy suppliers observed that they were simply "working within the law." And why were they allowed to do this? Because energy was deregulated.

But market ideology is not desirable in every conceivable circumstance, and in the case of electric power it is fraught with dangers for society's greater good. Lynn White's insight that technology merely opens doors, it does not require that one walk through them, can and should be applied as well to doors opened by economic advantages and political opportunities. California's experience with energy "restructuring," is probably not one to emulate, and few other states have moved ahead with deregulation since the California debacle. But can we turn the clock back? Well, we have already to some degree, and I suspect it's best left to the legislature and energy policy makers rather than to voters who really will never get beyond sound-bites in making a decision.

So, vote "no" on Prop. 80, is my view.


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