Yves here. I’ve read the detailed traffic between the author Eric L. Prentis and the publication in question, Energy Economics, and have also run them and his paper by academics who have or are supervising significant research and publication efforts. They gave the Prentis paper high marks and agreed that the actions of Energy Economics and its parent Elsevier were troubling, given that the editor who failed to move the routine review process forward has strong ties to the private equity industry. As one put it, “On its face, this conduct raises very grave questions.”
The article eventually appeared in a well-regarded foreign academic publication: “Evidence on U.S. Electricity Prices: Regulated Utility vs. Restructured States,” International Journal of Energy Economics and Policy, (2015). And why might private equity firms not like the Prentis paper to find a US audience? It demonstrates that the economic theory of “free market” competition naturally delivering lower electricity prices in restructured electric utility states is incorrect. Private equity firms make money on electric utility restructurings and thus have an interest in keeping unfavorable information our of the public domain. Along with food, electricity is an essential purchase for American consumers and higher prices hit their budgets.
How Research Journal Publishing is Being Subverted to Support Ideology — Rather Than the Truth
The allies of Wall Street’s private equity firms appear to use obstruction and delaying tactics when research threatens to expose how they prey on citizens and communities.
I have published previously in academic journals and am familiar with their quality standards and usual practices. The experience I had with Energy Economics, a top-tier publication in that niche, over a paper that was eventually published in another well-regarded, but non-US publication, was such an extreme departure from the norms of academic publishing as to strongly suggest that the reason for inexplicable delays and the eventual refusal to review my paper, is due to the fact that the paper effectively called out private equity price manipulation in electricity markets. As I will demonstrate, my paper was peculiarly re-assigned to an editor with strong ties to the private equity industry who then failed to move it forward in the editorial process, in violation of the policies of the publisher, Elsevier.
On March 20, 2014, I submitted an academic paper for review to Energy Economics — considered the leading economics research journal in the energy field — whose policy is to review all papers for publication, within four months. I complied with the main contact, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Richard S. J. Tol’s request to include a footnote link to the government data used, so the research could be replicated by others.
My paper was approved promptly for review on March 22, 2014 — manuscript number ENEECO-D-14-00204 — and sent to Dr. John P. Weyant, another Energy Economics Editor-in-Chief, to conduct the review. Weyant is Professor of Management Science and Engineering, Director of the Energy Modeling Forum, Senior Fellow of the Precourt Institute for Energy, and Deputy Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency at Stanford University. The reassignment struck me as odd at the time.
On June 2, 2014, I emailed Dr. Tol to ask for a review status, and received no reply. On August 7, 2014, two weeks after Elsevier’s official review period was over and a decision was therefore overdue, I emailed him again to say, “I am worried about you. Email after email sent to you goes unanswered. If I do not hear from you, I will start emailing other Energy Economics‘ Editors-in-Chief, to see if you are in good health.” His grudging response: “I’m fine, there’s no news on your paper.” I emailed him back saying, “I am happy to hear that you are well.” Notice, however, “no news” is not the sort of response I should have received at this juncture. I should have been given a thumbs up or down, or further detail on status.
On September 15, 2014, more than a month after the minimal “no news” e-mail, I sent the following message to Dr. Tol:
Since I have not heard from you, I assume the following:
1) After almost six months—Dr. John P. Weyant has yet to submit a review of my paper.
2) A strategy is lacking to encourage the review Editor-in-Chief to live up to his commitment and do his duty.
Consequently, in an effort to help you, I will send the following email to the two other Energy Economics’ Editors-in-Chief—Dr. B. W. Ang and Dr. U. Soytas:
I submitted an important and timely paper to Energy Economics—almost 6 months ago—and to my knowledge a review of my paper is not yet submitted.
Do you have any suggestions that I could pass on to Dr. Richard S. J. Tol, to help encourage Dr. John P. Weyant, who is handling the review, to live up to his commitment and do his duty? Please respond to this email.
I received no answer on my email request from any Energy Economics’ Editors-in-Chief.
Three weeks later, on October 6, 2014, I sent this email to Drs. Tol, Ang and Soytas:
I am very concerned about your unresponsiveness on my previous emails about not fulfilling Energy Economics’ basic duty to review my paper. IT HAS BEEN OVER 6 MONTHS.
That elicited a curt comeback from Dr. Tol: “Eric: just be patient.”
After a further three weeks, on November 1, 2014, I wrote Dr. Tol:
PLEASE HELP ME, take action, assign my paper to another reviewer, I beg of you.
And on November 6, 2014:
Your integrity is important. Journal Editors-in-Chief hold an honored position, ethically required to treat authors fairly.
The huffy, one word cryptic retort to my final email: “Chill.”
On November 6, 2014, the editors finally responded:
The author lacks confidence in the editorial team of Energy Economics and is thus best advised to take the paper elsewhere.
The notion that my paper had been rejected merely as a result of well-spaced out requests for status updates, seemed both unreasonable and implausible, particularly given how great the delays were and the absence of responses to inquiries. Moreover, there was no evidence the review process had ever been started despite it being assigned for review, which was in clear violation of Energy Economics‘ own policies.
I formally requested Elsevier management investigate the shabby treatment I received from Energy Economics’ Editors-in-Chiefs.
On November 19, 2014, Ms. Donna de Weerd-Wilson, Executive Publisher at Elsevier — who, rather than correcting procedure, so this sort of problem does not happen again — argued:
The reason your paper is never reviewed is because the Energy Economics’ Editors-in-Chief tried their best, for over seven months, to find suitable reviewers, but none could be found.
This response is simply not credible. International Journal of Energy Economics and Policy had no apparent difficultly in finding reviewers for the very same paper. I’ve submitted papers over the years to over 50 journals and no journal previously has ever found it hard to find reviewers. In addition, other academic economists have confirmed that this claim simply does not hold water.
The far more plausible explanation is that Energy Economics’ Editors-in-Chief deliberately sat on my paper, for over seven months, because of conflict of interest. The Energy Economics Editor-in-Chief in charge of reviewing my paper, Dr. John P. Weyant, is a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director at Stanford University’s Precourt Institute. Its advisory board has a heavy representation of partners from private equity firms and hedge funds, such as Sequoia, Second Avenue Partners, Energy Capital Partners, Mohr Davidow, Triangle Peak, and Farallon. These men are almost certainly substantial donors to the Precourt Institute. They may also raise money from colleagues in the private equity and hedge fund industries. My paper demonstrates that private equity profits from the restructuring of electric utilities at the expense of consumers, which is potent evidence for citizens to use before state regultors to argue against approving more private equity purchases of electricity companies.
Find out what Wall Street’s private equity firms and Elsevier’s Energy Economics do not what you to know about private equity firm’s jacking-up electricity prices. Please read the following excerpt from my paper, “Evidence on U.S. Electricity Prices: Regulated Utility vs. Restructured States,” International Journal of Energy Economics and Policy, (2015).
The vertically-integrated government-regulated natural monopoly electric utility model worked well in the U.S.—for nearly 100 years. However, some governors and state legislatures wish to reduce their states’ electricity prices and are advised that electricity prices would naturally fall if “free market” competitive marketplaces were established. Consequently, beginning in the late 1990s, a limited number of states restructure their vertically-integrated government-regulated natural monopoly electric utilities—by instituting “free market” competition in the electricity generation and retail sales’ sectors—while maintaining the middle-two sectors of transmission and distribution as a government-regulated natural monopoly.
The economic theory of “free market” competition naturally achieving lower electricity prices in restructured electric utility states is empirically tested in restructured states, pre-and-post restructuring, relative to U.S. electricity prices.
Of the 11 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) that have effectively restructured their electricity markets and allow “free market” competition, electricity prices have gone up over four times faster, after restructuring than before restructuring, relative to U.S. electricity prices. Delaware, Maine, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and the D.C. have extremely significant electricity price increases and are extremely less efficient, after their electric utilities restructure.
Massachusetts and Texas have very significant electricity price increases and are very less efficient, after their electric utilities restructure. Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Jersey have no significant relative price increases, pre-and-post restructuring; however, these four states retain substantial price-suppression regulation, through re-regulation of their electricity marketplaces. No effectively restructured electric utility state is statistically more efficient.
The results presented do not support the economic theory that “free market” competitive marketplaces naturally achieve lower prices, in the electric power industry. Instead, electric company operating efficiencies are extremely and very significantly reduced in many restructured states, making society poorer. “Free market” economic theory is not being appropriately applied to electric utility restructuring. What is important is developing and implementing an appropriate economic policy that realistically assesses the unique organizational and technical limitations in the vertically-integrated government-regulated natural monopoly electric power industry.
Whether Dr. Wyant and his colleagues at Energy Economics hoped to deter me from finding another publisher for my paper through dismissive treatment or merely hold me up is moot. Delaying the truth suppresses the truth. It appears that Energy Economics was not willing to make a serious go at reviewing my paper because it conflicted with “free market” ideology and Wall Street’s private equity firms using energy “restructurings” to extract money paid for electricity. Leading research journals should not tolerate the appearance of apparent coercion. Funding restrictions for Editors-in-Chief should be introduced.