Mapping Customers that may Need Additional Assistance in 8 Simple Steps

Bad debt plagues every utility: electric, water, sewer, phone, gas – you name it. A utility can spend thousands of dollars trying to recover the costs of delinquent accounts, and unfortunately, utilities with bad debt meet a costly fate. Bad debts are assumed by the company, and categorized with other necessary expenses; it has become a sacrifice that companies are expected to make. The accumulation of bad debt has become so normal for these companies that estimates are made, dollar amounts are calculated, budgets are finalized, and subsequently, bad debts are forgotten.

Delinquencies and bad debt can be caused by customers who have a harder time paying their bills, whether because of financial constraints or difficulties in communicating with the utility. To improve customer service, utilities can try to identify areas or customers that may need additional assistance or target outreach programs that can help customers communicate with the utility.

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No Butts left Behind: How to Pay for Cigarette Butt Collection and Recycling

Conventional wisdom holds the universal truth that littered cigarette butts are unsightly; an undesirable side effect of a habit which most smokers wish they could drop.  But while many smokers may not be successful in dropping their habit, they are far too successful at dropping their cigarette butts in the streets. According to Litter Free Planet, a nonprofit anti-litter organization, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide annually, accounting for 75% of the 6 trillion sold. Keep America Beautiful, another anti-litter educational group, reports that cigarette butts account for an estimated 38% of litter in the United States, and states, counties, and municipalities spend a collective $1.3 billion on litter abatement annually. Another $9 billion and $241 million annually is spent by private businesses and educational institutions, respectively. If the cost of cigarette litter abatement is proportional to the percentage of the litter which it comprises, then cigarette butt litter clean-up costs the United States $4 billion per year. And this is just the direct cost. Additional costs are born in forest fires ignited by improper disposal of lit cigarettes, decreased property values in littered neighborhoods, and lost tourism revenues in regions with littered roadsides or in coastal town beaches mistaken for ashtrays.

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Three States With Laws Allowing Water Utility Customer Assistance Programs

Unlike your favorite TV show, college football, or even your cell phone, water is a truly vital part of life. However, many Americans may still not have affordable access to this necessity. The question of whether or not water is “affordable” in some communities is an ongoing debate. State laws, aging infrastructure, lack of funding, and many other challenges can limit a utility’s ability to address affordability concerns. However, some states have provided a framework for utilities in their state to address the challenges utilities face to provide affordable access to water for all. Customer Assistance programs (CAPs) are utility-sponsored programs that help provide low-income customers with affordable access to water through various discounts or other cost reduction methods. California, West Virginia, and Washington, discussed in detail below, currently have laws in place that enable water utilities to create CAPs.

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Three Strategies to Reduce Costs: Purchasing Partnerships for Water Systems

Drinking water and wastewater systems may be able to reduce costs by partnering with other systems. These partnerships can range from informal agreements to the transfer of ownership and creation of a new utility. This post examines a range of partnership options and strategies to reduce costs for common drinking water and wastewater system supplies. Although membership and formality may vary between these types of partnerships, each relies on economies of scale to keep costs low by purchasing supplies in bulk.

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A Tale of Two Water Authorities: Paying for excess capacity in shared water and wastewater systems

Dividing the costs of shared water infrastructure equitably among many potential users may not be as straightforward as it seems. In particular, infrastructure designed to meet future demands in a growing region will not operate at full capacity for significant periods of time while demands catch up with projections. In a previous installment, we wrote about how reservations can be made on this excess capacity by individual entities when ownership is shared. These reservations can be used to split the costs of development, operation, and maintenance based on projections of future growth. Agreements can also include provisions for redistributing capacity reservations when actual growth differs significantly from initial projections. In some cases, these provisions call for retroactive payments between the partners to make the distribution of cost sharing in previous years reflect the new capacity reservations.

However, shared infrastructure capacity is not always directly owned by the end-users. In many circumstances, it is instead owned by a regional entity such as water management authority (WMA). These entities may issue debt, operate facilities, and provide maintenance for regional water and wastewater systems components (reservoirs, treatment facilities, major transmission lines). They can act as wholesalers, recovering their costs through fees charged to member utilities that in turn directly sell water services to retail (individual) customers. Under this arrangement, individual members do not need to take ownership over excess capacity, instead paying only for the water services they use in a given year. However, these systems may still operate with excess capacity, and the cost of that capacity is passed along implicitly in the fees charged to utilities. Under this structure, the costs of excess capacity are not always borne by the members that end up using it. This post profiles two different approaches used by regional authorities, the Karengnodi Water Authority and the Tampa Bay Water Authority, to examine the different ways in which water authorities pass their costs to member utilities.

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