Power Politics: Equity and Environment in Electricity Reform

Power Politics: Equity and Environment in Electricity Reform

Edited by Navroz K Dubash
World Resources Institute

During the 1990s, the conventional wisdom about the electricity sector —public ownership and integrated utilities —was challenged by a new model of private ownership and unbundled utilities. Debates about the viability, applicability, and feasibility of market-led electricity reforms continue today. Nonetheless, at the turn of the new century, countries around the world are taking tentative steps toward this new approach.

These shifts in the electricity sector have not occurred in isolation. The new model is part of a broader thrust toward the promotion of markets, a growing role for private capital, and global economic integration. These themes place electricity sector reforms squarely within larger processes of economic globalization and the debates about its merits and costs.

In Power Politics, Navroz K. Dubash and contributors from around the world show how electricity reform is, at root, an issue of sustainable development. Electricity reform represents an opportunity to focus attention on the 1.7 billion of the world's poor without access to electricity. It could also be an opportunity to align investor incentives along a trajectory toward a clean energy future, one that reduces emissions of greenhouse gases while promoting development and supporting livelihoods. The concern is not solely one of a missed opportunity. In appropriately done, electricity reform could hinder progress toward a more socially and environmentally sustainable energy future.

Drawing on six country studies-Argentina, Bulgaria, Ghana, India, Indonesia, and South Africa-the contributors to this volume examine whether and how the process of electricity reform can support rather than hinder sustainable development. Instead of sustainable development, they find that financial concerns and donor conditions have driven electricity reform. Managed by closed political processes and dominated by technocrats and donor consultants, social factors play a limited role, and environmental considerations play almost no role in a re-envisioned electricity sector. Drawing on a detailed analysis of the political economy of electricity reform in the six country studies, the study concludes with recommendations toward a more equitable and sustainable electricity future.