Three State Programs that Assist Local Capital Planning & Statewide Infrastructure Needs Assessment

The EPA’s 2011 Report to Congress on the Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, which estimated infrastructure capital needs of $384.2 billion over the next 20 years, includes a short line that has stuck with me all summer: “It is difficult to predict future needs.” [1]

Predicting the future in any context is difficult—if not impossible—and state agencies attempting to estimate statewide water/wastewater infrastructure needs must wrestle with some rather unique challenges. One of the challenges is a lack of consistent, long-term capital planning among water systems across the state. Water systems that do not practice asset management planning or have Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs) cannot predict the level of infrastructure investment they need in order to operate beyond the short lifetimes of their existing infrastructure assets.

This blog post provides a brief summary of how policy-makers in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky have addressed this issue by incorporating water system capital planning into the application requirements for water infrastructure funding programs. In some cases, this approach has enabled the development of sophisticated systems for tracking infrastructure needs at the local and state levels. No solution is perfect, but it is clear that taking steps to encourage even basic planning across all water systems can improve financial, environmental, and public health outcomes.

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WaterCARE: Four Common Challenges Facing Water and Wastewater Systems

Earlier this year, the EFC at UNC, in partnership with the Southwest Environmental Finance Center and other members of the Environmental Finance Center Network, started work on WaterCARE (Community Assistance for Resiliency and Excellence in Drinking Water and Wastewater). WaterCARE is a project funded by the EPA Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center to provide in-depth technical assistance to ten communities across the country who are facing water infrastructure challenges. While some of these challenges are significant, the communities chosen to participate in the WaterCARE project have shown strong commitment to increasing community sustainability by developing robust, innovative, and resilient strategies to meet long-term water needs. Each of the communities recognizes that clean drinking water and wastewater treatment are critical services that play an important role in protecting public health, environmental quality, and community development.

As we have gotten to know the communities better through initial meetings and conversations with key stakeholders, it has become clear that although each WaterCARE community is unique, these systems face many of the same challenges. Here are four common challenges of WaterCARE communities that we have encountered so far:

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Community-Based Social Marketing: Tools for reducing demand through behavior change

In our work with water utilities across the country, the Environmental Finance Center is often asked how a water utility might encourage conservation amongst its customers. Such utilities may be interested in promoting water conservation for various reasons. In many cases, utilities are driven by their own public service mission or by public pressure to be good stewards of the environment. In other situations, they may be close to capacity and interested in using conservation as a means to delay capital expenses, to deal with growing demand from an enlarging customer base, or to cope with drought conditions. In each of these instances, water utilities are interested in finding ways to encourage customers to reduce water use while also protecting their own financial sustainability.

As we have written in previous posts, some utilities encourage conservation by setting rates that promote water conservation, providing rebates for improved technologies, or enacting voluntary or mandatory restrictions to reduce discretionary water use. An innovative strategy some water utilities are employing to encourage conservation is Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM).

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One Major Thing LBNL’s “Energy Efficiency Program Financing” Technical Brief Doesn’t Tell Us (and Several Surprising Things it Does)

Earlier this week, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) released a technical brief, “Energy Efficiency Program Financing: Where it comes from, where it goes, and how it gets there.” Financing specifically refers to capital that is used to cover project upfront costs but then paid back over time (unlike rebates or other incentives). This characteristic of financing programs also makes them ideal tools to amplify the impact of limited amounts of public funding for energy efficiency, by recycling the funds as they are repaid for further projects, and by using the public funds to attract greater amounts of private capital.

The research highlights several intriguing (but expected) takeaways and a few surprises, but bypasses one key insight.

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Financing Energy Efficiency for Municipal Electric Utility Customers in North Carolina

Here at the EFC, we are always looking for ways to support the sustainable financing of energy efficiency for communities around the country, including in our home state of North Carolina. In the Old North State, electricity customers are generally served by one of three kinds of utilities: Investor-owned utilities (IOU’s), co-operative utilities (co-ops), and municipal electrical utilities (munis). As part of the EFC’s energy and sustainability financing programs, we are now working on the Rural Community Energy and Economic Capacity Building Program, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI), to research and develop ways to help electricity customers in three small towns in northeastern North Carolina to have greater access to energy efficiency (EE) financing alternatives. Two of these three towns have their own municipal electric utilities.

This brings us to the key questions of this blog post: What are utilities already doing in North Carolina to promote and finance EE for their customers? What other alternatives exist? And why does this matter in the first place?

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