By Andy Zipser
Andy is the owner of the Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park in Staunton, Virginia.
You’d think most adults would realize that nothing is free. You’d be wrong.
Under the headline “Newbie LP conservation tips,” RVTravel recently counseled readers to “conserve propane by switching on your electric water heater instead of propane.” It further suggested that another way to conserve propane is to “use an electric space heater instead of the furnace to stay warm.”
Elsewhere, the advice has been more blatant, with RVers encouraging others to use electric heaters when at campgrounds because the electricity is “free,” unlike the propane that would otherwise keep them warm.
Meanwhile, the February issue of Woodall’s Campground Management — a monthly trade publication targeted at campground owners — concurrently ran an article headlined, “More Owners Metering Sites as Cost of Electricity Continues to Climb.” The subhead quotes Wade Elliott, owner of Utility Supply Group, a major supplier of electric pedestals and related campground equipment, as saying that “somebody coming in to spend a night or two” is “going to use as much electricity in those two nights as the person staying for an extended period.”
Clearly, then, there’s a collision in the making between campers trying to save on costs and campground owners unwilling to pay for those savings.
Back in the day, when electricity was relatively cheap and campground electric demand was modest enough to be met with 20 amp service, there was no more reason to meter kilowatt consumption than there was to measure water usage. Yet both those variables have changed. Twenty amp service is anachronistic, 30 amp will serve only the smaller end of the market, and even 50 amps is becoming insufficient for some of the most power-hungry behemoths. The cost of electricity, meanwhile, climbed 15% over the past decade.
The combination of rising costs and rising demand is now threatening the underlying concept of bundled services that is typical of most campgrounds. We already have campers demanding a la carte pricing, claiming that they shouldn’t have to pay for amenities they’re not going to use, be it WiFi or the swimming pool.
Now they may find the same logic biting them back, as campground owners conclude they’ll be better off charging a separate fee for each service and utility. Taken to its extreme, perhaps we’ll see a revival of once ubiquitous coin-operated showers!
ONE POSSIBLE RESPONSE, of course, is for campground owners to raise site rates across the board to cover their increased electric costs. But that means simply that the cost of “free” electricity consumed by some RV campers is spread among all RV campers — including, ironically, the same bunch who want to pay for everything on an a la carte basis. Moreover, spreading the costs in this fashion encourages the kind of wastefulness that results from the “but it’s free” mentality.
That isn’t a merely speculative observation. At our campground, all our monthly sites are metered — but in addition, every time we replace a pedestal we do so with a metered one. As a result, we have some pretty interesting data to compare usage patterns between those who pay directly for what they consume — our month-to-month campers — and our overnighters, who don’t.
The upshot? Those who don’t pay for electric consumption use nearly twice as much juice as those who do.
Right now those metered overnight sites are like that for our own internal monitoring purposes. But as our costs keep rising — our monthly electric bill currently averages a bit more than $6,000, which is a whole mess of overnight fees — the thought of electric usage fees is never far from our minds.
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