A Bridge to a Distant Shore: Implementing Section 210 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978

James Alfred Throgmorton, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, 1983, 448 pages; AAT 8410080

This dissertation was written in the early 1980s, at the peak of the Iranian oil supply interruption and associated energy crisis. It observed that several interrelated factors had created the possibility that the electric power industry might change significantly, and it asked, in what direction is the industry most likely to change? To provide a partial answer to this question, it focused on public policy toward the interconnection of electric utilities with independent power producers, especially as expressed in Section 210 of PURPA.

Placing Section 210 in the context of mid-70s efforts to analyze and solve the energy crisis and the historical evolution of the electric power industry as a regulated natural monopoly, I used a “national policy implementation” framework to discern how Section 210 might be changing the industry. Drawing extensively on government documents, written testimony, transcripts of hearings, interviews with participants, and personal observations, I analyzed how and why Congress adopted Section 210, and then how two implementing agencies (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC) adopted the required rules. From there I turned to the Southern California Edison Company and analyzed how that “natural monopoly” responded to the CPUC’s orders. The dissertation moved to its deepest level by investigating the effort to install wind turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs, California. Recognizing that events proceed on several levels simultaneously, I analyzed two important court cases, and then returned to Congress where different groups sought to amend Section 210 in different ways.

Based on this research I concluded that five factors had had the greatest effect on implementation of this piece of legislation: (1) fluctuation in oil prices, (2) the “delegation of ambiguity” by Congress and the implementing agencies, (3) the dominance of applied microeconomics and engineering within the implementing agencies, (4) the political efficacy and growing technical competence of independent power producers, and (5) the monopoly/monopsony power of electric utilities.

I concluded the dissertation by hypothesizing that large scale cogenerators and renewable energy farms were likely to become major forms of power production in the future, while backyard- or rooftop-scale devices were not; that the development potential of energy farms was likely to be constrained by equity issues in populated areas; that there was likely to be growing interest in changing the industry fundamentally whenever a set of specified conditions were met; and that such change would require at least five to ten years of dedicated effort. I also suggested key points of intervention for people who would like to alter the emerging direction of change.

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