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Hirsh, Richard F. Power loss: The origins of deregulation and restructuring in the American electric utility system

Anderson, Byron. Counterpoise; Gainesville Vol. 4, Iss. 3,  (Jul 31, 2000): 49.

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Hirsh, Richard F. Power loss: The origins of deregulation and restructuring in the American electric utility system

Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. 406p. ISBN: 0-262-08273-X cloth

In the early part of the twentieth century, investor-owned power companies won designation as natural monopolies allowing them the right to sell electricity in a non-competitive market, joining other select technological enterprises that had obtained special treatment in American society. This monopoly was protected by state regulatory boards, the same boards that also granted utility managers substantial political and economic power. The story begins in 1907 with what Hirsh calls "the utility consensus," a group made up of politically powerful entities. This group and the power relationships established among the stakeholders--the politicians, utility managers, regulators, environmentalists and consumer advocates make up the primary characters for the story. The utility consensus remained in power until the 1970s, when unexpected events, for example, expensive power plant construction and the energy crisis, led to the utility managers' fall from power and a restructuring of the electric utility industry.

Hirsh provides an interesting and readable account of the deregulation and restructuring of the electric utility system. The analysis is objective and focused on the historical aspects of how the complex of power plants, transmission lines, individuals and institutions interacted to create utility networks. The book is divided into four parts: the origin of the agreement negotiated by elite groups in the early 1900s; the introduction of deregulation into the utility system with the passage of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978; the novel ideas made to resolve utility problems by employing the concepts of conservation and energy efficiency; and the creation of a potential new consensus of regulators, utility managers, and other stakeholders participating in a non-confrontational approach for developing strategies to meet electricity demand...