Two recent reports highlight the benefits of using “reverse auctions”. In a reverse auction, the buyer specifies a quantity to be purchased, and sellers bid to provide a portion of that quantity. An article in Utility Dive summarizes some of the experiences with renewable market auctions. A separate report in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy goes further to lay out five guidelines:
Encourage a Large Number of Auction Participants
Limit the Amount of Auctioned Capacity
Leverage Policy Frameworks and Market Structures
Earmark a Portion of Auctioned Capacity for Less-mature Technologies
Balance Penalizing Delivery Failures and Fostering Competition
This policy prescription requires well-informed policy makers balancing different factors–not a task that is well suited to a state legislature. How to develop such a coherent policy can done in two ways. The first is to let the a state commission work through a proceeding to set an overall target and structure. But perhaps a more fruitful approach would be to let local utilities, such as California’s community choice aggregators (CCAs) to set up individual auctions, maybe even setting their own storage targets and then experimenting with different approaches.
California has repeatedly made errors by overly relying on centralized market structures that overcommit or mismatch resource acquisition. This arises because a mistake by a single central buyer is multiplied across all load while a mistake by one buyer within a decentralized market is largely isolated to the load of that one buyer. Without perfect foresight and a distinct lack of mechanisms to appropriately share risk between buyers and sellers, we should be designing an electricity market that mitigates risks to consumers rather than trying to achieve a mythological “optimal” result.
Severin Borenstein at UC Berkeley argues against the “try everything” approach to searching for solutions to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. But he is confusing situations with relatively small incremental consequences (even the California WaterFix is “small” compared to potential climate change impacts.)
Instead, when facing a potentially large catastrophic outcome for which the probability distribution is completely unknown, we need a different analytic approach than a simple cost-benefit analysis based on an “expected” outcome.
Rob Lempert at Rand Corp writes about “robust decisionmaking” under “deep” uncertainty which best fits the situation.
We need to be looking for what decision pathways lead us to the situations create the most vulnerability, not for which one has the “optimal outcome.” Policymakers and stakeholders looking desperately for any solution intuitively get the notion of robust decisionmaking, but are not receiving much guidance about how to best pursue this alternative approach. Economists need to lead the conversation that changes the current misleading perspective.
It’s not environmental regulation now that is leading to the demise of the coal industry–it’s the cheaper cost of alternatives. Rather than “bring back coal mining jobs,” we should focus on how we retrain and relocate those displaced workers. And we need to look for new industries that may thrive in “coal country.”