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Utility customers willing to pay more for liveability projects, study shows

Hunter Water’s largest ever residential customer survey has shown its customers are willing to pay more for projects that benefit the community.

The utility provides drinking water, wastewater, recycled water and some stormwater services to nearly 600,000 people across the New South Wales Lower Hunter region.

Ahead of its submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) in July, Hunter Water asked its customers whether they would pay more for the utility to deliver environmental and liveability projects.

More than 70% of respondents said they would be willing to pay for discretionary services including landscaping around drains, carbon reduction, stormwater harvesting, wastewater recycling for irrigation of public parks and targeted water conservation programs.

However, customers were less willing to pay for projects they perceived would benefit businesses and industry.

Hunter Water Regulatory Economist Emma Turner will discuss how the utility conducted the survey and what it discovered at Ozwater’19 in May.

She said the survey results will help Hunter Water make the case to IPART for a price increase to deliver services outside those it is required to provide.

“We wanted to better understand our customers’ needs and incorporate these into our planning, and we wanted evidence when going through a pricing review with the regulator,” Turner said.

“Generally, if a project is not a regulatory requirement, the regulator wouldn’t allow you to incorporate the expenditure in pricing because you don’t have to do it.

“This study shows people want us to do these projects, and they judge themselves as able to pay for them.”

Turner said the water sector is currently juggling the competing demands of providing a higher level of service – particularly in relation to environmental and liveability projects – while keeping water bills low.

“Everyone is very interested in the issue of liveability and what the water industry’s contribution should be, but we’re also grappling with a willingness to pay,” she said.

“Now we know what people are willing to pay for, we can demonstrate this to the regulator.”

To learn more, don’t miss Emma Turner’s presentation at Ozwater’19. Click here to register.