16 Feb 2011

Utilities DO charge per person

While messing around researching water tariffs for my new job, I came across this tariff schedule for annual water service in Brussels:
Block Volume Price
Tranche 1 - Vitale de 0 à 15m³/hab/an 0,9518 €/m³
Tranche 2 - Sociale de 15 à 30m³/hab/an 1,7414 €/m³
Tranche 3 - Normale de 30 à 60m³/hab/an 2,5809 €/m³
Tranche 4 - Confort de 60 m³/hab/an et plus 3,8336 €/m³

The first thing you should notice is that the tariff rises with consumption (increasing block rates), as consumption goes from "vital" to "social" to "normal" to "comfort" (I guess that's similar to my idea of "luxury" or "lifestyle"). Fifteen cubic meters per year is 41 liters/day (about 10 gallons/day, at a price that works out to $3.65/ccf).

The second thing you should notice is that the tariff of per person (per "habitant"), which matches my recommendation that water tariffs should be based on the number of people using the water, not the size of lawn, etc.

I emailed to ask how the utilities gets their headcount. They take the count from the annual housing registration that Belgian citizens must file with their government.

Many American water managers have asked how to implement per capita water pricing if headcounts are not obviously available. I've suggested they use self-proclaimed numbers, but they've worried that people will lie.

I guess that's what the American aversion of a national ID has got us: a social security number that's a de facto ID number but cannot be legally used that way, and a government that has no problem violating citizen's rights (via wiretapping), but no easy way to know how many people live at a house.

I prefer the Belgian system -- limited data with strong security protections.*

Bottom Line: It's easiest to implement per capita increasing block water tariffs where the government keeps count of how many people live at an address.
* Yes, they've learned from WWII. That's why the Germans are after google for breach of privacy. Love to see what they've done with Facebook.


MHA said...

Not sure…. Do they really charge on a per person basis? It looks like the tariff is set on per cubic meter basis, regardless how many people live in a house.
I agree on the fact that the number of inhabitants at a certain address should be accounted for when defining tariff blocks but… what happens if a family spends part of the year on a second house (i.e. holidays)? Although the total yearly consumption would be the same (say 20 m3/year, “Sociale”) than if lived the whole year in a single place, the final amount paid would certainly be lower, since it will be probably under Tranche 1 “Vitale” on both houses.
On the limit, a family owning several houses and having a “Confort” consumption pattern might be not charged at all if your “some for free, pay for more” were applied.

David Zetland said...

@MHA -- the tariffs are "/hab" which means per habitant, or per person. Your other observation (a family that lives elsewhere will use less at their primary residence) is factual but unrealistic. Do you think that families will buy several houses to stay in a lower consumption band @ each? Let's keep it real, eh?

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