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The Redistributional Impact of Non-linear Electricity Pricing

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  • Severin Borenstein

Abstract

Utility regulators frequently focus as much or more on the distributional impact of electric rate structures as on their efficiency. The goal of protecting low-income consumers has become more central with recent increases in wholesale power costs and anticipation of significant costs of greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. These concerns have led to the widespread use of increasing-block pricing (IBP), under which the marginal price to the household increases as its daily or monthly usage rises. There is no cost basis for differentiating marginal price of electricity by consumption level, so perhaps nowhere is the conflict between efficiency and distributional goals greater than in the use of IBP. California has adopted some of the most steeply increasing-block tariffs in electric utility history. Combining household-level utility billing data with census data on income distribution by area, I derive estimates of the income redistribution effected by these increasing-block electricity tariffs. I find that the rate structure does redistribute income to lower-income groups, cutting the bills of households in the lowest income bracket by about 12% (about $5 per month). The effect would be about twice as large if not for the presence of another program that offers a different and lower rate structure to qualified low-income households. I find that the deadweight loss associated with IBP is likely to be large relative to the transfers. In contrast, I find that the means-tested program transfers income with much less economic inefficiency. A much larger share of the revenue redistributed by the IBP tariff, however, comes from the wealthiest quintile of households, so IBP may be a more progressive structure of redistribution. In carrying out the analysis, I also show that a common approach to studying (or controlling for) income distribution effects by using median household income within a census block group may substantially understate the potential effects.

Suggested Citation

  • Severin Borenstein, 2010. "The Redistributional Impact of Non-linear Electricity Pricing," NBER Working Papers 15822, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15822 Note: EEE IO
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Vesterberg, Mattias, 2017. "The effect of price on electricity contract choice," Umeå Economic Studies 941, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
    2. repec:eee:enepol:v:109:y:2017:i:c:p:782-793 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. 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.
    4. Ali Hortaçsu & Seyed Ali Madanizadeh & Steven L. Puller, 2015. "Power to Choose? An Analysis of Consumer Inertia in the Residential Electricity Market," NBER Working Papers 20988, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. S. Borenstein, 2013. "Effective and Equitable Adoption of Opt-In Residential Dynamic Electricity Pricing," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 42(2), pages 127-160, March.
    6. Vesterberg, Mattias, 2017. "Heterogeneity in price responsiveness of electricity: Contract choice and the role of media coverage," Umeå Economic Studies 940, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
    7. repec:eee:enepol:v:106:y:2017:i:c:p:255-265 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Miravete, Eugenio J & Seim, Katja & Thurk, Jeff, 2013. "Complexity, Efficiency, and Fairness of Multi-Product Monopoly Pricing," CEPR Discussion Papers 9641, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. Koichiro Ito, 2015. "Asymmetric Incentives in Subsidies: Evidence from a Large-Scale Electricity Rebate Program," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(3), pages 209-237, August.
    10. 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.
    11. Lanot, Gauthier & Vesterberg, Mattias, 2017. "An empirical model of the decision to switch between electricity price contracts," Umeå Economic Studies 951, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
    12. repec:eee:enepol:v:109:y:2017:i:c:p:208-217 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Khanna, Nina Zheng & Guo, Jin & Zheng, Xinye, 2016. "Effects of demand side management on Chinese household electricity consumption: Empirical findings from Chinese household survey," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 113-125.
    14. Steven W. Hemelt & Kevin M. Stange, 2014. "Marginal Pricing and Student Investment in Higher Education," NBER Working Papers 20779, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Nauges, Celine & Whittington, Dale, 2017. "Evaluating the Performance of Alternative Municipal Water Tariff Designs: Quantifying the Tradeoffs between Equity, Economic Efficiency, and Cost Recovery," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 125-143.
    16. Hancevic, Pedro & Cont, Walter & Navajas, Fernando, 2016. "Energy populism and household welfare," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 464-474.
    17. Severin Borenstein, 2015. "The Private Net Benefits of Residential Solar PV: The Role of Electricity Tariffs, Tax Incentives and Rebates," NBER Working Papers 21342, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Radulescu, Doina & Pavanini, Nicola & Feger, Fabian, 2016. "Welfare and Redistribution Effects of Alternative Tariffs in Energy Markets with Solar Power," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145669, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L43 - Industrial Organization - - Antitrust Issues and Policies - - - Legal Monopolies and Regulation or Deregulation
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities

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