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Designing Competitive Wholesale Markets for Latin American Countries
Policy Brief

Published By

Stanford University, Department of Economics

June 20, 2003

Executive Summary

The purpose of this paper is to present a general framework for electricity market design in Latin American Countries (LACs) that addresses the current problems facing electricity supply industries (ESIs) in this region. The major issue addressed is what market rules, market structures, and legal and regulatory institutions are necessary to establish a competitive wholesale market that provides the maximum possible benefits to consumers consistent with the long-term financial viability of the ESI.

The paper first presents a theoretical foundation for analyzing the electricity market design problem. A generic principal-agent model is presented and its applicability to the electricity market design problem explained. It is then applied to illustrate the incentives for firm behavior under regulation versus market environments. The impact of government versus private ownership on firm behavior in both market and regulated environments is also addressed using this model. This discussion is used to guide our choices for the important lessons for electricity market design in developed countries and LACs.  Using the experiences from ESI reform in developed countries, the paper presents five essential features of a successful wholesale electricity market. The first is the need for a sufficient number of independent suppliers for a competitive market to be possible. Merely declaring the market open to competition will not result in new entry unless no single supplier is able to dominate the market. Second is a forward market for electricity where privately-owned firms are able to sell long-term commitments to supply lectricity. This report argues that the conventional wisdom of establishing a competitive spot market first leading to a competitive forward market is an extremely expensive process in developed countries and is prohibitively expensive in developing countries. Third is the need for the active involvement of as many consumers of electricity as is economically feasible in the operation of the wholesale market.  This involvement should occur both in the long-term and short-term market. In the short-term market, there must be a number of buyers willing to alter their consumption of electricity in response to short-term price signals. Fourth is the importance of a transmission network to facilitate commerce, meaning that the transmission network must have sufficient capacity so that all suppliers face significant competition. This implies a dramatically different approach to determining the quantity and magnitude of transmission network expansions in a market regime.  The final lesson is the need to establish a credible regulatory mechanism as early as possible in the restructuring process. An important lesson from developed countries around the world is that the initial market design will have flaws. This implies the need for ongoing market monitoring to correct these flaws before they develop into disasters.

The paper then takes on the issue of the specific challenges to LAC restructuring. Rather than focus on the details of specific markets, the paper instead identifies a number of problems common to LACs and provides recommended solutions to each of these problems. A major theme of this section is a warning that short-term solutions to market design flaws can have longterm market efficiency costs. The paper identifies seven major challenges to Latin American ESI restructuring. The first is related to the problem of introducing wholesale markets in systems dominated by hydroelectric capacity. This section also deals with the related issue of using cheap hydroelectric power as a way to keep electricity prices low and the risk of electricity shortages high. The second issue is concerned with the difficulties of establishing an active forward market for electricity in LACs. The third relates to the LAC-specific challenges associated with establishing an independent and regulatory body. The fourth addresses the advisability of cost-based versus bid-based dispatch of generation units in LAC wholesale markets. The fifth is how to regulate the default provider retail electricity price in LACs. Sixth concerns the advisability of capacity payments mechanism for ensuring energy adequacy in markets where demand is expected to grow rapidly. The final issue is the role for government versus private ownership in LACs.

The report then discusses specific market design challenges in five LACs. These countries are Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. A number of these challenges are specific examples of the general challenges discussed earlier in the paper, whereas others are unique to the geography, natural resource base or legal environment in the country.

The report closes with a proposed market design that should serve as a baseline market design for all LACs. Deviations from this basic design could be substantial depending on initial conditions in the industry and the country, but the ideal behind proposing this design is to have a useful starting point for all LAC restructuring processes.

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