Utilities in Spain

Electricy, gas and water

Electricity, gas and water connections and supplies are covered in this section. Immediately after buying or renting a property (unless utilities are included in the rent), you should arrange for the meter to be read, the contract (e.g. electricity, gas or water) to be registered in your name and the service switched on.

Make sure all bills have been paid by the previous owner. Although you’re liable only for debt incurred from the day you rent or buy a property and aren’t liable for the previous owner’s outstanding debts, utility companies sometimes cut off a supply because of a previous owner’s debts.

Unless you’re certain that all debts have been paid, it’s a good idea to provide your utility companies with a copy of your title deeds or rental contract so that they know when you took over ownership or tenancy of the property.

Registering a contract usually entails a visit to the company’s office, although many companies offer the possibility of registering online or by telephone. Note that in order to register for electricity via the internet or telephone you must give some identification (your name and your passport or identity card number), as well as the reference number for the electricity supply (usually found on the top left-hand corner of an electricity bill under Contrato de Suministro No).

If you visit the utility company’s office, you must take some identification (passport or residence permit) and the contract and bills paid by the previous owner. The registration procedure for water connection is sometimes via the local town hall. If you’ve purchased a home in Spain, the estate agent may arrange for the utilities to be transferred to your name or go with you to the offices (no charge should be made for this service).

If you’re a non-resident owner, you should also give your foreign address in case there are any problems requiring your attention, such as a bank failing to pay the bills. You may need to pay a deposit.

Electricity in Spain

Spain’s main electricity companies include Grupo Endesa (the largest), Iberdrola, Union Fenosa and Hidrocantábrico. In January 2003, the energy market was completely liberalised and clients can, in theory, now choose which company provides their electricity. In practice, however, in many areas there’s still only one company providing electricity. Endesa (902-509 509, www.endesaonline.com ) provides electricity under the following names:

Fecsa in Catalonia; Gesa in the Balearics; Sevillana Endesa in Andalusia; and Unelco in the Canaries. Hidrocantábrico (902-860 860, www.h-c.es ) provides electricity in Asturias and Madrid. Iberdrola (901-202 020, www.iberdrola.com ) provides electricity in Asturias, the Basque country, Cantabria, Catalonia, Comunidad Valenciana (including the Costa Brava), Galicia and Madrid. Unión Fenosa provides electricity in central Spain, including Madrid ( 901-404 040, www.unionfenosa.es ).

Electricity tariffs in Spain

Electricity in Spain is one of the most expensive in Europe, with prices having risen 60% between 2006 and 2012. Even further rises are expected as electricity companies are forced to pay the cost of keeping to the limits of emission of gases under the Kyoto agreement. The actual charges depend on your local electricity company (the rates shown in the example below are those charged by Sevillana Endesa in Andalusia).

The tariff depends on your power rating, which for domestic users with a power rating of up to 15kW is 2.0 (above 15kW it’s 3.0). This tariff is used to calculate your bimonthly standing charge. The standing charge is payable irrespective of whether you use any electricity during the billing period.

To save on electricity costs, you can switch to night tariff (tarifa nocturna, 2.0N) and run high-consumption appliances overnight, e.g. storage heaters, water heaters, dishwashers and washing machines, which can be operated by a timer. If you use a lot of water, it’s better to have a large water heater and heat water overnight. If you use electricity for your heating, you can install night-storage heaters that run on the cheaper night tariff. The night tariff rate consists of paying 2.7 per cent more than the normal tariff during the day and evening (from 7am to 11pm), but provides a reduction of 53.3 per cent for electricity used overnight (between 11pm and 7am). In the summer, night hours start at midnight and run until 8am. VAT at 16 per cent must be added to charges.

Cuota Fija: Some electricity companies allow their customers to pay a monthly set amount (cuota fija) irrespective of consumption. At the end of the year the actual consumption is calculated and the customer pays the outstanding amount or has money returned to them.

Electricity bills

Electricity is billed every two months, usually after meters have been read. However, companies are permitted to make an estimate of your consumption every second period without reading the meter. You should learn to read your electricity bill and check your consumption.

Paying your bills by direct debit (domiciliación bancaria) from a Spanish bank account is advisable if you own a holiday home in Spain. Bills should then be paid automatically on presentation to your bank, although some banks cannot be relied on 100 per cent. Both the electricity company and your bank should notify you when they’ve sent or paid a bill. Alternatively, you can pay bills at a post office, local banks (listed on the bill) or at the electricity company’s office (in cash).

Electricity companies aren’t permitted to cut your electricity supply without authorisation from the proper authorities, like the Ministry of Industry and Energy, and without notifying the owner of a property. If you’re late paying a bill, you should be sent a registered letter demanding payment and stating that the power will be cut on a certain date if you don’t pay. If you disagree with a bill, you should write to the Servicio Territorial de Ministerio de Industria y Energía; if your complaint is founded your electricity company will be refused permission to cut your supply. If your supply is cut off, you must usually pay to have it reconnected ( reenganche).

Gas in Spain

Mains gas is available only in major cities, although with the recent piping of gas from North Africa (Algeria and Libya) it may soon be more widely available.

Gas bills 

As with electricity, you’re billed every two months and bills include VAT at 16 per cent. Like all utility bills, gas bills can be paid by direct debit from a Spanish bank account. In rural areas, bottled gas is used and costs less than half that of mains gas in most northern European countries. You can have a combined gas hot-water and heating system (providing background heat) installed, which is relatively inexpensive to install and cheap to run.

In most areas of Spain, gas bottles (bombonas) are delivered to homes by Repsol Butano, for which a contract is required. You must pay a deposit of around €25 and an exchange 12.5kg bottle costs around €12.50 (the price fluctuates frequently) when delivered to your home or less if purchased directly from a Butano depot. A contract is drawn up only after a safety inspection has been made of the property where the gas appliance is to be used. In some areas, you must exchange your bottles at a local supplier. A bottle used just for cooking lasts an average family around six to eight weeks. If a gas boiler is installed outside, e.g. on a balcony, it must be protected from the wind, otherwise you will continually be re-lighting the pilot light.

Inspections 

You must have your gas appliances serviced and inspected at least every five years. If you have a contract with Repsol Butano, they do this for you or it’s done by your local authorised distributor. Some distributors try to sell you a package which includes third party insurance and free parts should they be required, although it isn’t necessary to have this insurance and is a waste of money. Beware of ‘bogus’ gas company representatives calling unannounced to inspect gas appliances.

Most are usually legitimate companies, but their charges are extortionate and they will give you a large bill for changing tubing and regulators (which don’t usually need changing), and demand payment in cash on the spot. If you wish you can let them make an inspection and give you an estimate (presupuesto) for any work that needs doing, but don’t let them do any work or pay any money before checking with your local Repsol Butano distributor. Incidentally, plastic tubes have an expiry date printed on them and you can buy them from a hardware store (ferretería) and change them yourself.

Water in Spain

Water, or rather the lack of it, is a major concern in Spain and the price paid for all those sunny days. Spain as a whole has sufficient water, but it isn’t distributed evenly. There’s (usually) surplus rainfall in the north-west and centre and a deficiency along most of the Mediterranean coast and in the Balearic and Canary islands. In the Canaries, there’s a permanent water shortage and most drinking water is provided by desalination plants, while in the Balearics 20,000 wells are employed to pump water to the surface (there are also desalination plants in Majorca and Ibiza). Three large desalination plants are located in Almería, Marbella and Murcia.

Hundreds of rural towns and villages have water on tap for just a few hours a day during the summer months and farmers regularly face ruin due to the lack of water for irrigation. However, domestic consumption has reduced in many regions with the sharp increase in water costs in recent years, and people have learnt to use less water during the prolonged drought.

Restrictions

During water shortages, local municipalities may restrict water consumption or cut off supplies altogether for days at a time. Restrictions can be severe and householders may be limited to as little as three cubic metres (m3) per month, which is sufficient for around 10 baths or 20 showers. In some areas, water shortages can create low water pressure, resulting in insufficient water to take a bath or shower.

Note that in many developments, water is provided by electric pump and therefore if your electricity is cut off, so is your water supply. In urbanisations, the tap to turn water on or off is usually located outside properties, so if your water goes off suddenly you should check that someone hasn’t switched it off by mistake. In the hotter parts of Spain, where water shortages are common, water tankers deliver to homes. Some properties don’t have a mains supply at all, but a storage tank (epósito) that’s filled from a tanker. If you have a storage tank, water is pumped into it and you’re charged by the litre plus a delivery charge.

Quality of water

Water is supposedly safe to drink in all urban areas, although it can be of poor quality (possibly brown or rust coloured), full of chemicals and taste awful. Many residents prefer to drink bottled water. In rural areas, water may be extracted from mountain springs and taste excellent, although the quality standards applied in cities are usually absent and it may be of poor quality. Water in rural areas may also be contaminated by the fertilisers and nitrates used in farming, and by salt water in some coastal areas. If you’re in any doubt about the quality of your water you should have it analysed.

Many areas have hard water containing high concentrations of calcium and magnesium. Water is very hard (muy dura) in the east, hard (dura) in the north and most of the south, and soft in the north-west (e.g. Galicia), and central and western regions. You can install a water softener that prevents the build-up of scale in water heaters and water pipes which increases heating costs and damages electric heaters and other appliances. Costs vary considerably and can be hundreds of euros for a sophisticated system, which also consumes large quantities of water for regeneration. It’s necessary to have a separate drinking water supply if you have a water softener installed in your home.

Storage Tanks

If you have a detached house or villa, you can reduce your water costs by collecting and storing rainwater and by having a storage tank installed. Tanks can be roof-mounted or installed underground, which are cheaper and can be any size, but require an electric pump. Check whether a property has a water storage tank or whether you can install one.

Most modern properties have storage tanks which are usually large enough to last a family of four for around a week or even longer with careful use. It’s also possible to use recycled water from baths, showers, kitchens and apparatus such as washing machines and dishwashers, to flush toilets or water a garden. In recent years, it has become common to have a storage tank installed that refills itself automatically when the water supply is restored after having been cut off.

Hot Water

Water heating in apartments may be provided by a central heating source for the whole building or apartments may have their own water heaters. If you install your own water heater, it should have a capacity of at least 75 litres. Many holiday homes have quite small water boilers, which are often inadequate for more than two people. If you need to install a water heater (or fit a larger one), you should consider the merits of electric and bottled gas heaters. An electric water boiler with a capacity of 75 litres (sufficient for two people) costs from €150 to €250 and usually takes between 60 and 90 minutes to heat water to 40 degrees in winter.

A gas flow-through water heater is more expensive to purchase and install than an electric water boiler, but you get unlimited hot water immediately whenever you want it with no standing charges. Make sure that a gas heater has a capacity of 10 to 16 litres per minute if you want it for a shower. A gas heater costs from €150 to €300 (although there’s little difference in quality between the cheaper and more expensive heaters), plus installation costs.

A gas water heater with a permanent flame may use up to 50 per cent more gas than one without one. A resident family with a constant consumption is better off with an electric heater operating on the night-tariff, while non-residents using a property for short periods will find a self-igniting gas heater more economical. Solar energy can also be used to provide hot water.

Costs of water in Spain

Water is a local matter in Spain and is usually controlled by local municipalities, many of which have their own wells. In some municipalities, water distribution is the responsibility of a private company. The cost of connection to the local water supply for a new home varies considerably from around €75 up to €500 (when a private company controls the distribution), or even €1,500 in an isolated area. In most municipalities, there’s a standing quarterly charge or a monthly charge for a minimum consumption (canon de consumo), e.g. 14 cubic metres a month or €10 a month plus VAT at 7 per cent, even if you don’t use any water during the billing period. Water shortages don’t stop municipalities from levying high standing charges for a water supply that’s sometimes non-existent.

The cost of water has risen dramatically (as a result of droughts) and in some towns, water bills have increased by over 300 per cent or more. although the price of water used to be one of the cheapest in Europe, it is now considered as one of the most expensive. The cost varies considerably from an average of around e1 per m3 on the mainland to between €1.50 and €2.50 per m3 in the Canaries and some parts of the Balearics. In some areas, tariffs start with a low basic charge, but become prohibitively expensive above a certain consumption. Many municipalities levy a standing charge, which is usually for a minimum amount of water per quarter or month, e.g. 45m3 a quarter or 15m3 a month, whether any water is used or not (which hits non-residents hardest).

Some municipalities levy a quarterly surcharge (canon de servicio) and regional governments may also levy a charge for water purification. Sometimes a higher water rate is charged for holiday homeowners or owners in community developments, where the water supply isn’t controlled by the local municipality, while in others the cost of water is included in community fees. Water bills usually include sewerage and may also include rubbish collection, e.g. when a city provides all services, in which case the cost of rubbish collection may be calculated on how much water you use.

There’s also a rental charge for the water meter, e.g. around e4 per quarter. Always check your water bill carefully, as overcharging on bills is rife. Sometimes water company meters show a huge disparity (increase!) in consumption compared with a privately installed meter and when confronted with the evidence water companies often refuse to reply! Some municipalities arbitrarily levy higher tariffs on certain urbanisations, although this is illegal.

To reduce water costs, you can buy a ‘water saver’ that mixes air with water, thus reducing the amount of water used. The cost of fitting a water saver is only around €40, which can reportedly be recouped in six months through lower bills.

Water savers can be purchased from El Corte Inglés and Hipercor stores, hypermarkets and DIY stores.

Water bills

Bills are generally sent out quarterly. If you don’t pay your water bill on time you should receive an ‘enforced collection’ (recaudación ejecutiva) letter demanding payment of your bill (plus a surcharge). If you don’t pay your bill your water supply can be cut off. If your supply is cut, you must pay a reconnection fee, e.g. €40, plus any outstanding bills.

Even though the cost of living in Spain is considered lower than many European countries, utility bills can still turn out to be quite expensive. 

This article is an extract from Buying a home in Spain. Click here to get a copy now.

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