The California electricity market reform promised to deliver reliable service at low and stable prices. Frequent capacity shortages and the ensuing rolling black-outs, price spikes, and large price volatility since Summer 2000 raise a simple but substantive question: what went wrong? The answer to this question will help countries contemplating electricity market reform not to commit similar mistakes. We find the answer by identifying the major factors that have turned the California dream into a nightmare. Such factors include poor market design, market power, sustained demand growth not matched by new capacity, rising marginal cost, and financial insolvency. Proposed remedies include an alternative market settlement process, long-term contract, fast licensing and siting process for new generation and transmission, conservation and energy-efficiency, distributed resources, rate options, and debt restructuring. The California experience suggests that a reversible regulatory reform is a safe alternative to an irreversible market reform. Copyright © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.