As state capitals in Ohio and Illinois deal with the fallout over utility-related bribery scandals and California grapples with its first rolling blackouts in 19 years, electricity markets suddenly find themselves at center stage this summer.
Out of sight and most often out of mind for most Americans, utilities and the competitive markets in which many operate have a direct impact on the electricity bills we all pay every month. Properly functioning markets provide a level playing field for all resources to compete and keep options open, with least-cost options needed to meet reliability winning out. The kind of corruption and political interference we have seen recently only drives up costs for consumers and reduces reliable delivery of electricity to homes and businesses.
And affordable and reliable electricity is needed now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic is squeezing family budgets and changing the way Americans consume electricity. As millions of Americans are forced to stay home, either to work or because they cannot work, they are seeing their bills climb this summer with home cooling now an all-day requirement every day. Several New Jersey customers recently noted that their July electric bills have been double or more what they paid last summer.
Frustrated by high costs, corruption and policies that put reliability in jeopardy, American voters are expecting more from their power providers.
As we continue to transition to an ever-cleaner power grid, it’s critical that policymakers and candidates thoughtfully consider the options and understand what consumers want.
That’s why our organization recently partnered with Morning Consult, a leading public opinion research firm, to better understand the priorities and views held by American voters on key electricity-related issues.
The results were loud and clear: Consumers value reliable and affordable energy solutions, with 90% putting reliability and affordability at the top of concerns. Eighty-six percent of Americans said they want Congress to focus on minimizing energy costs to consumers and taxpayers. While agreeing cleaner energy is a priority, voters favor reducing emissions at the least cost.
For households, every dollar matters — particularly among more vulnerable populations. Fifty percent of voters said they could not afford an electricity bill increase of $15 or less, and among those, 25 percent said they could not afford an increase of any amount.
The solution to high costs, political corruption and all-or-nothing energy policies is simple: competitive power markets. In a truly competitive system, power generators compete to sell electricity in the market before it is delivered to consumers. Competition lowers costs and drives innovation, and it’s the model supported by two out of three American voters. We must focus on market-based solutions and allow all resources to compete to deliver low-cost, reliable electricity.
Competitive power suppliers stand in contrast to incumbent utilities. Unlike utilities, competitive generators bear the risk of their investments and must earn their revenues in the market — they can’t rely on ratepayers to bail out projects that aren’t producing power or earning them enough money.
One of the simplest solutions is understanding the need for low-emitting and reliable American natural gas, which is reducing energy bills and has created a cleaner power grid by driving coal retirements. It has also earned the support of three out of four American voters. Proposals that seek to ban or aggressively curtail natural gas only drive up costs, impacting low- and fixed-income families the hardest.
The American people should get reliable, cleaner electricity at the lowest cost, and that’s the model followed by the competitive power markets we support and the companies we represent. Wholesale power prices in competitive electricity markets are at historic lows, while emissions have declined 34% in the area served by the largest regional market run by PJM Interconnection. Meanwhile our member companies are building renewable technologies and continue to lead on innovative, affordable and reliable solutions as long as they can compete fairly. Innovation and competition must and will drive further progress.
It’s time to listen to American voters and focus on competition and market-based solutions, rather than onerous mandates, bailouts and corporate taxpayer-funded subsidies that harm consumers. There’s no question that a fair and transparent regulatory and policy playing field can help us meet everyone’s goals: safe, reliable, affordable and cleaner electricity.
• Todd Snitchler, a former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and member of the Ohio state house of representatives, is president and CEO of the Electric Power Supply Association.