That's the conclusion of a report on FERC's restructured regional electricity markets published in December by Elise Caplan of American Public Power Association and Stephen Bobeck of the Consumer Federation of America.
The report takes a look at how FERC has restructured regulation of wholesale power to rely on market based rates and regional transmission organizations. "FERC has chosen to rely on supposed market “competition” to ensure that prices are “just and reasonable,” as required under the Federal Power Act."
Do these markets work to protect consumers? No. The report opines that, "Instead, evidence is mounting that customers have been harmed by the markets."
Despite repeated attempts to get FERC to do some sorely needed analysis and adjustment to its competitive market experiment, "FERC has still not undertaken such an analysis. But there is a wealth of data available to support the conclusion that consumers actually have been harmed by the restructuring of wholesale electricity markets and that access to alternative retail suppliers does not solve the fundamental problems of the wholesale market from which those suppliers must purchase power."
In the report, "...we discuss specific RTO rules and structure that have provided opportunities for excess generator earnings at the expense of consumers."
In uncompetitive RTO cartel electricity markets, "Offers into the energy market need not reflect the sellers’ actual costs of generation, as FERC would have required under a traditional cost-of-service ratemaking regime. Rather, the sellers set their own price offers, regardless of their actual costs, subject only to review and possible adjustment by the RTOs’ market monitors. In PJM, the market monitor typically mitigates less than one percent of the energy offers in both the real-time and day-ahead markets."
Thanks, Market Monitor! Always looking out for my interests, aren't you? It's just too bad that PJM's attempt to replace the Market Monitor isn't intended to provide more protection for consumers, but LESS.
And here's another problem we've written about before that pops up in the report: "The conceptual basis for LMP is that these differential prices will send “price signals” to indicate where there is a need for new generation or additional transmission capacity, or to reduce load through conservation or shifting the times when energy is consumed. As discussed below, this theory has not borne fruit in practice."
In PJM, new transmission is always proposed before new generation has a chance to happen, and demand side resources aren't given serious consideration. This is why consumers are now paying half a billion dollars for two failed transmission projects -- transmission projects that were approved and intended to be quickly rammed through before demand side resources and new generation could be recognized. Ultimately, PJM's Project Mountaineer scheme failed, along with the transmission projects, when demand side resources and generation developed despite PJM's best efforts to squelch them.
"The theory behind locational pricing is to provide price signals indicating where new transmission and generation is most needed. But in reality, new resources have not developed to respond to higher prices in these markets. Instead of inducing new resource development, the higher prices provide a financial incentive for incumbent generation owners to keep supplies constrained, or at least to ensure that prices bid by new market entrants remain high.
The financial benefits of constrained supplies can be seen in the candid presentations by merchant generation owners to the financial community wherein the potential closure of coal plants is touted as a benefit to their earnings."
You know... like how FirstEnergy's wave of coal plant closures last year provided the company with jacked up capacity prices in ATSI and a whole bunch of new transmission projects in which to invest its "transmission spend" to increase the company's earnings. Remember that?
So, what protections are built into RTO markets, and do they work? "FERC relies solely on market monitors for each RTO to determine whether the wholesale electricity markets are competitive. These market monitor analyses are based on a limited frame of analysis that ignores evidence, such as the profitability data presented later in the report, which raises questions about the competitive nature of these markets. Moreover, the reports issued by the market monitors do not always support a definitive finding of competition. For example, in the most recent State of the Market Report for PJM, the market monitor found that the local market structure in the energy market and both the local and aggregate market structure in the capacity market were not competitive, as was the structure and the performance in the regulation market."
Go ahead, click through and read this analysis:
"Prior to examining the empirical evidence of the effects of RTO markets on electricity prices paid by utility customers, this section describes the structural flaws in RTO markets – conceptual problems that have led to higher prices than would have occurred absent such markets. These fundamental features of RTO markets, discussed below, provide both incentives and opportunities for merchant generators to earn excess revenues at the expense of consumers".
How does PJM "fix" their markets when things go awry? "When a given market structure does not achieve its goal of providing satisfactory revenue to RTO generators, the response – prompted by generators, many of them the spun-off affiliates of formerly vertically-integrated utilities – has been to induce the RTO to add a new, more complex market or a rule to prop up prices, such as a tightening of the minimum offer price rule in PJM." This kind of "make the rules up as you go" is the basis for the most recent bickering over new MOPR rules secretly concocted by PJM and its incumbent generators. This is the behavior of a cartel, not a competitive market.
If competitive markets save money for consumers, why do "RTO generation owners’ 10-K reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission list restrictions on competition as a potential risk to their earnings?"
The evidence examined in the report "lead[s] to a conclusion that the restructured RTO-operated markets have increased prices above what would be seen in the absence of restructuring."
How much? "...a possible $12 billion excess payment from consumers to generating companies that do not face genuine market competition – demonstrates the scope of restructuring’s negative impact."
And this about sums it up:
"The greatest beneficiaries of restructuring have been not consumers, as was promised, or innovative companies that were expected to emerge, but the “usual suspects” – owners of previously regulated, largely depreciated generating units."
How do we fix this mess? "It is crucial that FERC, as the regulator responsible for ensuring under law that wholesale prices are just and reasonable, determine whether RTO markets are achieving their cost-reducing potential, and, if not, to implement needed reforms."
Don't hold your breath. FERC refuses to even examine the results of their RTO experiment, much less take any action to fix it. Perhaps it's time for Congress to step in.