Electricity Supply: Surplus or Shortage?

August 23, 1985

Report Outline
A Troubled Industry
Shortage Debated
Alternative Solutions
Special Focus

A Troubled Industry

Shortage Fears Highlighted at Hearings

The specter of regional electric power shortages by the early 1990s loomed large at Senate hearings in late July. At the hearings, entitled “When Will the Lights Go Out?” representatives of private, investor-owned electric companies, economic analysts and government officials warned that the current surpluses of electric generating capacity could be used up within the next decade. “Without new generating capacity, the lights …will start to go out sometime in the 1990s and will do so increasingly as the decade progresses,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Danny Boggs said.

Given the current national surplus, the idea of widespread electricity shortages seems far-fetched. “Reserve” margins in every region of the country top the 20 percent figure traditionally thought necessary to ensure reliable electric service; in most regions the margin is well above 20 percent. Blackouts and brownouts are rare, localized and usually result from mechanical failures rather than lack of generating capacity.

Electric utility leaders claim the surplus will not last. Demand for electricity is expected to increase, though predictions of the rate of growth vary widely. At the same time, aging power plants will be retired, and oil- and gas-fired plants could become too costly to operate if fuel prices increase.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Public Utilities and Electricity
Feb. 19, 2010  Modernizing the Grid
Jan. 14, 2000  Utility Deregulation
Jan. 17, 1997  Restructuring the Electric Industry
Nov. 20, 1987  Deregulating Electric Power
Aug. 23, 1985  Electricity Supply: Surplus or Shortage?
Mar. 14, 1975  Future of Utilities
Dec. 17, 1969  Electric Power Problems
Jul. 15, 1953  Power Policy
Aug. 04, 1948  Power Shortage
Aug. 04, 1930  Publicly-Owned Power Plants
Jun. 28, 1928  Public Utilities' Propaganda in the Schools
Nov. 12, 1927  Power and Public Utility Issues
Aug. 30, 1926  Rural Electrification in the United States
Jan. 09, 1926  Public Regulation of Electrical Utilities
Electric Power
Regulation and Deregulation