Civilizing the Californian Electricity Market and the Tragedy of (Entangled) Commons: The Case of Community Choice Aggregators and the Negotiation of System Costs and Responsibility

Julia Kirch Kirkegaard*, Trine Pallesen, Tom Cronin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


In California’s electricity market, a new market actor has been devised in recent years - the Community Choice Aggregator (CCAs). These have been spreading rapidly across the state, aggregating collective concerns for ‘Climate, Community Choice and Cents’. CCAs seek to offer greener, more locally, democratically anchored energy at lower prices than what the incumbent utilities can provide. Drawing on the Social Studies of Markets (SSoM), and particularly their growing fascination with public participation through hybrid forums of lay and expert actors in attempts at ‘civilising’ markets, we show how the CCA movement has instantiated negotiations of the attribution of system costs and responsibilities, as well as of ‘market advantages’. Based on fieldwork in California, we trace an unfolding valuation struggle provoked by the market innovation of CCAs, illustrating how the organization of CCAs around distributed energy procurement through Power Purchase Agreements has enabled CCAs to decouple from broader system costs and responsibilities. Using the contested ‘exit fee’ – the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) – as a case, we illustrate how the design of CCAs paradoxically has produced new collective concerns amongst incumbent actors over the reliability of the electrical power system, but also over the potential of CCAs to 1 Corresponding author, deliver on California’s climate targets (the Renewable Portfolio Standard). We illustrate how the ‘misfiring’ of the socio-technical market assemblage around CCAs has resulted in deployment and refinement of calculative ‘accountability devices’ (e.g. Integrated Resource Plans) and the emergence of a new technocracy to tame and ‘fix’ the market misfires. We discuss our contribution to the SSoM, discussing how CCAs – while set into operation to address collective concerns, is accused of producing a ‘tragedy of (entangled) commons’, in this case of climate and grid reliability. We conclude by shedding critical light on the idealization of hybrid forums in electricity markets, cautioning that materiality (and electrons and wires) matter for public participation. Having ‘barbarised’ the electrons from their market design, electrons have produced misfires that raise doubts as to the (in)abilities to co-produce electricity markets through equal participation of specialists and non-specialists
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Event38th EGOS Colloquium 2022: Organizing: The Beauty of Imperfection - Vienna University of Economics and Business, Wien, Austria
Duration: 7 Jul 20229 Jul 2022
Conference number: 38


Conference38th EGOS Colloquium 2022
LocationVienna University of Economics and Business
Internet address


  • Community choice aggregator (CCA)
  • Social studies of markets
  • Tragedy of the commons
  • Civilizing markets
  • Hybrid forums
  • Materiality
  • Collective concerns
  • Accountability devices

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