“Why Change?” Monopoly and Competition in the Southeastern U.S. Electricity System

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Although much of the U.S. electricity system moved to deregulated markets in the late 1990s, states in the southeastern United States—home to the nation’s largest, most valuable, and most polluting utilities—chose to retain regulated monopolies. In this article, we draw on interviews with regulators, environmental organizations, lobbyists, and utility executives to examine how utilities in the southeastern United States have maintained their position as monopolies in the face of calls for competition in the 1990s and again in the 2020s. We ground our inquiry in geographical political economy, with attention to the role that law plays in balancing monopoly and competition in electricity provision and capitalism more broadly. Our research suggests that the cultural political economy of energy regulation in the Southeast has played a central role in enabling electric utilities to maintain their monopoly position, with utilities using their relationships with regulators to parlay their monopoly preference into narratives of monopoly-as-consumer-protection. We therefore offer insights regarding long-debated mechanisms of regulatory capture, highlighting how the structure of public utility law creates opportunities for political and personal relationships to overpower general ideological commitments to competition. These findings demonstrate how law is deployed as a mediating tool of capitalist relations.


competition, electricity, Energy, monopoly, regulatory capture

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Annals of the American Association of Geographers