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The Equity and Efficiency of Two-Part Tariffs in U.S. Natural Gas Markets

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  • Severin Borenstein
  • Lucas W. Davis

Abstract

Residential natural gas customers in the United States face volumetric charges that average about 30 percent more than the marginal cost of gas. This inefficient departure from marginal cost pricing allows gas utilities to cover their fixed infrastructure and operating costs. Proposals for recovering these costs instead through fixed monthly fees are often opposed because of a widespread belief that current rate schedules have desirable distributional consequences. Using nationally representative household-level data, we show that the correlation between household income and natural gas consumption is indeed positive but surprisingly weak, so current rate schedules are only mildly progressive. In part, we argue that this is because poor households tend to have larger families and less energy-efficient homes. We calculate bill impacts under a variety of scenarios and show that even a modest energy assistance program would more than offset the distributional impact of tariff rebalancing for most low-income households.

Suggested Citation

  • Severin Borenstein & Lucas W. Davis, 2012. "The Equity and Efficiency of Two-Part Tariffs in U.S. Natural Gas Markets," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(1), pages 75-128.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/661958
    DOI: 10.1086/661958
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    3. Robert W. Hahn & Robert D. Metcalfe, 2021. "Efficiency and Equity Impacts of Energy Subsidies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 111(5), pages 1658-1688, May.
    4. Farrell, Niall, 2021. "The increasing cost of ignoring Coase: Inefficient electricity tariffs, welfare loss and welfare-reducing technological change," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C).
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    7. Elham Erfanian & Alan R. Collins, 2018. "Charges for Water and Access: What Explains the Differences Among West Virginian Municipalities?," Water Economics and Policy (WEP), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 4(04), pages 1-27, October.
    8. Arlan Brucal & Nori Tarui, 2018. "Revenue Decoupling for Electric Utilities: Impacts on Prices and Welfare," Working Papers 201814, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    9. Abada, I. & Ehrenmann, A. & Lambin, X., 2018. "Unintended consequences: The snowball effect of energy communities," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1828, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    10. Abada, Ibrahim & Ehrenmann, Andreas & Lambin, Xavier, 2020. "Unintended consequences: The snowball effect of energy communities," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 143(C).
    11. Metcalf, Gilbert E., 2019. "The distributional impacts of U.S. energy policy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 926-929.
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    13. Auffhammer, Maximilian & Rubin, Edward A., 2017. "Elasticities, heterogeneity, and optimal cost recovery: Evidence from 300M+ natural gas bills," 2017 Annual Meeting, July 30-August 1, Chicago, Illinois 258439, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    14. Koichiro Ito & Shuang Zhang, 2020. "Reforming Inefficient Energy Pricing: Evidence from China," NBER Working Papers 26853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    16. Farrell, Niall & Lyons, Seán, 2014. "The distributional impact of the Irish public service obligation levy on electricity consumption," MPRA Paper 53488, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Arlan Brucal & Nori Tarui, 2018. "Revenue Decoupling for Electric Utilities: Impacts on Prices and Welfare," Working Papers 201814, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    18. Mar Reguant, 2018. "The Efficiency and Sectoral Distributional Implications of Large-Scale Renewable Policies," NBER Working Papers 24398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Radulescu, Doina & Pavanini, Nicola & Feger, Fabian, 2016. "Welfare and Redistribution Effects of Alternative Tariffs in Energy Markets with Solar Power," VfS Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145669, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
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    21. Steven L. Puller & Jeremy West, 2013. "Efficient Retail Pricing in Electricity and Natural Gas Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 350-355, May.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D42 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Monopoly
    • L50 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - General
    • L95 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Gas Utilities; Pipelines; Water Utilities
    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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