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Mandatory Open Access: Subsidizing Special Interests

By Jim Clarkson -- October 2, 2012

Traditional public-utility regulation of interstate transmission of both natural gas and electricity has given way to the open-access era. Rather than a bundled product (transportation and the commodity) delivered at one price, the utility just charges for transmission. Third parties (independent marketers) buy and sell  the “unbundled” (gas or electricity) commodity.

Is third-party access (TPA) a step toward free markets compared to what came before? Some say “yes” given that there is a new market with the commodity where, as if led by an invisible hand, a plethora of new pricing terms and services have emerged. This is what led Ken Lay to think of open-access-dependent Enron as a pro-market, pro-competition company. “I believe in God, and I believe in free markets,” he used to say. But Enron was just the opposite, one of the most rent-seeking firms in the history of capitalism.