Revenue Decoupling for Electric Utilities: Impacts on Prices and Welfare

Under traditional (cost-of-service) electric utility regulation, regulated utilities may not recover their fixed costs when their sales are lower than expected. Revenue decoupling (RD) is a mechanism that allows price adjustments so that the regulated utility recovers its required revenue. This paper investigates the welfare and distributional impacts of RD. Theoretically, we find that the excess burden of subsidies for distributed generation is larger with RD than without. Contrary to how RD is specified on dockets in many states, electricity prices appear to demonstrate downward rigidity, while statistically significant upward adjustments on average are observed across utilities that experienced decoupling. We also find empirically that RD has generated negative welfare effects in most states even if we consider the social marginal costs of electricity generation given different energy mix across regional markets.

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