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

  • Severin Borenstein
  • Lucas W. Davis

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.

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File URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/10.1086/661958
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File URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/661958
Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal The Journal of Law and Economics.

Volume (Year): 55 (2012)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 75 - 128

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/661958
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/

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  1. Severin Borenstein & Meghan Busse & Ryan Kellogg, 2007. "Principal-agent Incentives, Excess Caution, and Market Inefficiency: Evidence From Utility Regulation," NBER Working Papers 13679, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Baumol, William J & Bradford, David F, 1970. "Optimal Departures from Marginal Cost Pricing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(3), pages 265-83, June.
  3. Charles L. Ballard & Don Fullerton, 1993. "Distortionary Taxes and the Provision of Public Goods," NBER Working Papers 3506, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Ng, Yew-Kwang & Weisser, Mendel, 1974. "Optimal Pricing with a Budget Constraint-The Case of the Two-part Tariff," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(3), pages 337-45, July.
  5. Christopher R. Knittel, 2003. "Market Structure and the Pricing of Electricity and Natural Gas," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(2), pages 167-191, 06.
  6. Severin Borenstein, 2012. "The Redistributional Impact of Nonlinear Electricity Pricing," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(3), pages 56-90, August.
  7. Snow, Arthur & Warren, Ronald Jr., 1996. "The marginal welfare cost of public funds: Theory and estimates," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 289-305, August.
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