A Free-Market Energy Blog

Giberson Defines Free Market for Electricity!

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 22, 2024

“A free market in electricity is based on private property rights and voluntary exchange.”

– Michael Giberson, May 19, 2024

It’s a start. It took me a few dozen tries, but the definition has come from a (not-so) free market electricity advocate, Mike Giberson. Maybe Lynne Kiesling, woman of system and “The Queen of Electricity Markets,” will be next.

Fake free marketeers at the Niskanen Center and at R Street Institute are a plague on sound public policy analysis regarding electricity and other climate/energy issues. The sad case of Jerry Taylor of Cato and Niskanen is recounted here and here. But the problem also is with the energy specialists at R Street, including senior fellow Giberson. (See yesterday’s post on Devin Hartman, Giberson’s boss.)


Mike Giberson knows his energy stuff and was/is free market in many areas, except for electricity. Yes, he works around the edges to improve power “markets” using basic economics. But he is firmly in the camp of mandatory open access and central wholesale planning of electricity (ISO/RTOs), with nary a thought to the free market alternative, which he very reluctantly (and finally!) defined above.

This is much to like about Mike. Great guy personally. He corrects me from time to time in my specialty, the history of U.S. petroleum intervention. He has had notable free market moments, such as his rejoinder to the notion that the U.S. Department of Energy invented the fracking of natural gas from shale. On price gouging, he has been my guest at MasterResource. He reviewed Meredith Angwin’s book Shorting the Grid with a moment of candor:

By the end of the book, I could no longer shake the feeling she just might be right on the big thing. RTOs may be producing an increasingly fragile grid.”

An understatement, but a fair, honest overall opinion. But would Lynne Kiesling approve/agree?

Consider his reporting on negative wind pricing at least as far back at 2008. Great stuff, but he downplayed the same in the ruined economics of thermal generation leading up to the Great Texas Blackout of February 2021, another story (here and here).

I disagree with Giberson on electricity policy, but it goes much deeper than this. The rules of classical liberal scholarship include taking opposing arguments seriously and being transparent. And focusing on opportunity cost, the most attractive option foregone. Mike, and Lynne Kiesling much more so (she sets the tone; he is her double), have violated that in spades, preferring to be obscure and to disengage at the most important moments (ask Travis Fisher).

Only after a lot of effort have I gotten Giberson to admit to the simple definition of a free market in regards to electricity. I applauded his admission that ISO/RTO’s are “a very regulated market,” and I do so now.

But it is only a beginning. Embedded in the above definition is the rule of law to enforce private contacts and prevent the initiation of force or fraud. Another presumption is government neutrality toward different technologies as in let-the-market-decide.

I have rebutted his criticisms that I am a stooge for oil and gas and my activism against him/Lynne as sullying my reputation. (Sorry, but I am not a crony. I am the right person to do the dirty work here). On a more open subject, Giberson and I have debated wind/solar zoning versus private property rights with reasonable differences. (But why his defense of private property here and not with electrical transmission?)

But overall, the electricity program of Giberson (Kiesling) is Stealth Statism. As I once asked:

So will Michael Giberson and Lynne Kiesling ever consider the opportunity cost of their politicized electricity ‘market’? Will they consider a real free market that was at the center of the classical liberal debate before mandatory open access (etc.) came along? How much failure–and how far on the ‘road to serfdom’ does U.S. energy policy have to go before mid-course corrections?

All this said, much progress has been made with his definition, fresh from Sunday last, that can be used as a benchmark for evaluating public policy positions in electricity. I hope Lynne Kiesling (who still refuses to provide a definition) approves. And Devin Hartman applies it to electricity as well. Let the debate continue….


  1. Mike Holly  

    This is too philosophical for most people. Why not debate the free markets that existed before the granting of utility monopolies after 1906? Why not debate how microgrids could bring back free markets?


  2. rbradley  

    Very good point on the free market era before public utility regulation–I have an article on this topic, as well as other parts for a free market primer on electricity.

    Second part on microgrids: not a free market but the opposite, except off the grid. Remove all government subsidies to see the real value-added opportunities.


  3. Mike Holly  

    Of course, subsidies distort markets but I was talking about market design. Free markets need alternative transmission like (off-grid) microgrids. I think the biggest problem with deregulation is regulators failed to build enough transmission for much direct sales from power producers to retail customers. Wind generators should have been required to provide backup power. Instead, regulators forced sellers into artificial wholesale markets. Once the subsidized and intermittent wind and solar energy are constructed, they keep generating power regardless of the wholesale price. More flexible gas plants are incentivized to shut down to save fuel costs when wind and solar are generating, especially since capital costs are low, and collect higher prices when wind and solar are not generating. The most reliable base-load plants, that can’t shut down and have high capital costs, are less favored as wind and solar are added to wholesale markets.


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