Price Reform in Kuwait’s Electricity and Water Sector – Assessing the Net Benefits in the Presence of Congestion

Kuwait’s domestic electricity and water sector has been in disarray for several years, struggling with fast-rising demand for several decades as a result of rapid industrialization, population growth, rising living standards as well as due to the artificially low utility prices set by the government. We use a model-based methodology to compare the current pricing scheme against an alternative where consumer prices are raised to market levels and consumers are on average compensated by cash transfers that do not distort their economic decisions. Our main finding is that a realignment of prices at or closer to the market price level confers a benefit on current and future generations of Kuwaitis, in terms of fiscal savings, that outweighs the impact of raising electricity and water consumer prices to market price levels. Specifically, in the market price scenario with consumer prices at about ten times current levels, there is a total fiscal cost of about one-third of the value of fuel input used in the power sector (or about 1.5 per cent of GDP), entirely due to the cash transfer. This, however, is just less than one-fifth of the fiscal cost of the current low-price regime, and in principle represents a massive saving. The net benefit of moving to market prices is 6.3 per cent of GDP. By implication, if it is judged that a cash transfer scheme, undifferentiated by usage, can help gain acceptance for the price reform, it is shown to be affordable. We also show that the shift to market pricing will be a more efficient route to achieving spare capacity in the electricity and water system.

By: Bassam Fattouh , Lavan Mahadeva