Discussion Paper

Stranded Costs, Takings, and the Law and Economics of Implicit Contracts

Abstract

This paper explores ways in which economic analysis can help resolve the stranded cost controversy that has arisen in debates over electricity market deregulation. "Stranded costs" are costs electric utilities will not recover as power markets move from protected monopolies to an open, competitive environment. The paper begins with a description of the stranded cost problem, its magnitude, and the prominent arguments for and against recovery. We then turn to an analysis of contracts in order to understand whether there is, or should be, a legal duty to compensate utility shareholders for unrecovered costs. The paper also argues that efficient approaches to electricity deregulation will rely on more than an analysis of contracts. In particular, the politics of deregulation should be viewed as an independent constraint that affects the desirability of alternative approaches to stranded costs.