Imperfect Markets Versus Imperfect Regulation in U.S. Electricity Generation

61 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2017 Last revised: 29 Dec 2022

Date Written: January 2017


This paper measures changes in electricity generation costs caused by the introduction of market mechanisms to determine output decisions in service areas that were previously using command-and-control-type operations. I use the staggered transition to markets from 1999- 2012 to evaluate the causal impact of liberalization using a nationwide panel of hourly data on electricity demand and unit-level costs, capacities, and output. To address the potentially confounding effects of unrelated fuel price changes, I use machine learning methods to predict the allocation of output to generating units in the absence of markets for counterfactual production patterns. I find that markets reduce production costs by $3B per year by reallocating output among existing power plants: Gains from trade across service areas increase by 20% based on a 10% increase in traded electricity, and costs from using uneconomical units fall 20% from a 10% reduction in their operation.

Suggested Citation

Cicala, Steve, Imperfect Markets Versus Imperfect Regulation in U.S. Electricity Generation (January 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23053, Available at SSRN:

Steve Cicala (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States


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