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Striking the Balance: How Communities are Using Creative Financing to Support Green Infrastructure

autumn-72736_640My interest in Green Infrastructure (GI) sparked several years ago, when I worked as a college intern with the City of Greensboro, NC Stormwater Department. Back then, no one really talked about “green infrastructure”, but the city was invested in managing its stormwater.  As part of that experience, I was given my first look at stormwater management in practice as I tagged along with city staff to inspect Greensboro’s Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – features like constructed wetlands, forested stream buffers, and rain gardens, that are designed to remove pollutants from urban runoff.

This week I was reminded just how much things have changed since that first internship experience. For one, “green infrastructure” has emerged as the preferred term for these kinds of features, and has also grown as an accepted stormwater management practice among communities across the country. Even at the federal level, acceptance of GI is very clear. For example, the 2014 amendments to the Clean Water Act now include section 603(c)(5): “for measures to manage, reduce, treat, or recapture stormwater or subsurface drainage water;” language which the EPA interprets as including “green roofs, rain gardens, roadside plantings, porous pavement, and rainwater harvesting.” EPA’s recent Community Summit on Green Infrastructure in Cleveland, Ohio highlighted this shift and offered an unparalleled opportunity to capture conversations from those on the ground about lessons learned and emerging implementation issues.

Continue reading Striking the Balance: How Communities are Using Creative Financing to Support Green Infrastructure

Encouraging Property Investments with Stormwater Fee Credit Programs

Storm_DrainGreentown, USA wants to join some of its large older city peers such as Washington and Philadelphia that are rebranding themselves as Green Environmental Cities. Greentown wants to become the greenest small town in the country and would like to encourage property owners across their town to plant more trees, convert their rain shedding roofs into rain absorbing green space, and dig up their pavement and replace it with rain gardens and other stormwater systems that reduce run-off. They have started a media blitz promoting this green transformation, yet progress has been painfully slow. Older shopping centers, like the Southside Shopping Center, continue to produce torrents of rainwater runoff laden with oil and trash that pollutes the area’s waterways. Retrofitting existing space is costly and property owners have other competing needs for their scarce renovation dollars, and education alone only goes so far in promoting transformation. The city council is deadlocked between a contingent that wants to enact regulation that requires older properties to “Greenify” and a contingent that thinks the city should just use public grants to incentivize the transformation. Greentown, like many communities across the country, is stuck. What’s the solution? Continue reading Encouraging Property Investments with Stormwater Fee Credit Programs

New Tool Helps Local Governments Understand How to Finance Wetland and Water Quality Projects

wetlandLocal governments can be important partners for state and tribal wetland programs.  As noted in a previous post, while states and tribes often manage wetland programs, local governments regularly make land use, zoning, and development decisions that have a direct impact on wetlands.  Local governments are also involved more broadly in water quality issues, from watershed enhancements to stormwater programs to protecting their drinking water sources.  But local governments need access to funding for wetland and water quality projects in order to be effective partners for states and tribes. Continue reading New Tool Helps Local Governments Understand How to Finance Wetland and Water Quality Projects

Water₡lips: New Video Series on Financial Topics for Water Utilities, their Boards, and Funders

waterclipsWater utility governing boards serve a critical role in ensuring the provision of clean, safe drinking water. Governing boards are tasked with making important and complex decisions in line with the utility’s mission, and they ultimately serve to keep water utilities accountable to the public. One of the most important roles of a governing board is to protect the utility’s long-term financial health and sustainability. Yet water utility governing board members don’t always have a background in finance or a strong understanding of key financial issues that impact the utility.

A new series of educational videos produced by the Environmental Finance Center at UNC Chapel Hill, with support from the Water Research Foundation, offers an engaging, accessible, and easily shareable resource on financial management topics designed specifically for water utility governing boards. The Waterlips© Video Series describes challenges faced by water utilities across the country using eye catching visualizations and easy to understand explanations of concepts that can otherwise be daunting.  Continue reading Water₡lips: New Video Series on Financial Topics for Water Utilities, their Boards, and Funders

WRRDA: Creating Interactions between the New WIFIA Program and the Updated Clean Water State Revolving Fund

WRRDA Highlights_pub image

Figure 1 Cover of “WRRDA Highlights” Publication (Source: http://transportation.house.gov/wrrda/)

 

As the federal government considered introducing a new program, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA), for funding water infrastructure projects, some opponents saw the new program as unnecessary. The protest was not centered on a lack of need of financing for water infrastructure. Indeed, the estimated range of need from $122 billion to $3.6 trillion is large enough to warrant action whether you subscribe to the lower end or the higher end of the range! Instead, some saw the existing State Revolving Fund (SRF) program as the most viable vehicle for delivering more financing. Why create a new program when one already exists? At the same time, critics of the existing SRF program pointed to the fact that it was not broad and flexible enough, and had not been significantly updated since 1987. In a surprising turn of events, a bipartisan team of lawmakers addressed both sets of concern in one fell swoop. Continue reading WRRDA: Creating Interactions between the New WIFIA Program and the Updated Clean Water State Revolving Fund

Bottom-Up Financing Options for Green Infrastructure: What Will Your Approach Be?

seedlingGreen Infrastructure (GI), a common term to refer to a range of different types of small and mid-scale installations that support water management and other environmental goals, has become a growing component of many local government’s environmental stewardship strategies. Rain gardens, restored urban water-ways, increased tree plantings, permeable pavement and other distributed “nature mimicking” infrastructure installations are making their way into Green Infrastructure plans across the country (like one recently created in Durham, NC). While many local governments are making strides in implementing these installations, other local governments are still in the pilot phase – experimenting with demonstration projects but nowhere near scale with their investing, at least compared to other types of their infrastructure investing.  As these installations become an accepted part of a local government’s infrastructure investment portfolio, the inevitable “How to pay for it?” questions will arise. While many smaller scale demonstration projects across the country have attracted external grant funding, full scale implementation will require a robust financing approach. Continue reading Bottom-Up Financing Options for Green Infrastructure: What Will Your Approach Be?

EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan: Initial Thoughts on Electric Utility Costs and Pricing

Coal-Fired-Power-PlantBy David Tucker and Lexi Kay

In June 2014, the U.S. EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan rule for the regulation of existing electric power plants under Section 111(d) of the federal Clean Air Act. A comment period for this proposed rule will soon end on December 1, 2014, which makes this a good time to ask some basic questions: What is this proposed rule for power plants? What might be some of the potential cost and pricing impacts on electric power utilities and their customers? How might North Carolina be impacted by the proposed rule?

Continue reading EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan: Initial Thoughts on Electric Utility Costs and Pricing

Conservation Water Rates in Arizona

by Jacob Mouw

This post was revised on September 25, 2014 to address nuances of water pricing and differences in conservation rates.

Entering ArizonaDrinking water, despite being a necessity, is relatively cheap in regards to its importance. At around $0.005 per gallon from the tap, it is astoundingly cheaper than, say, printer ink, which ranges from $13 to $75 per ounce, and yet is vastly more important. Despite this low price, water is a commodity, particularly in dry, drought-prone regions such as the southwestern United States. Utilities can deal with low water supplies by discouraging higher water use among customers through pricing. Having a “conservation rate” entails charging high enough prices for larger volumes of water use, therefore discouraging discretionary, non-essential use and promoting conservation. In the Environmental Finance Center’s recent Water and Wastewater Rates and Rate Structures Survey in the State of Arizona, thanks to funding from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona, we analyzed 355 water rate structures from 324 utilities. Continue reading Conservation Water Rates in Arizona

Making the Business Case for Energy Policies: Lessons from Little Rock

Guest post by David Brown

Solar PanelsWhat’s the right mix of petroleum, natural gas, coal, and other fuels to use for electrical generation today? What are our options for meeting the energy demands of tomorrow? And is it possible to consume less while continuing to raise our standard of living? These are important questions without easy answers. In a democracy, the task of grappling with such questions falls largely to our elected representatives. Indeed, in North Carolina, members of the General Assembly wrestle with tough questions about energy in every legislative session, in the form of committee hearings, proposed bills, floor debates, and eventual legislation. These are smart people with access to expert staff, to be sure. Still, most of them have not worked in the energy industry, and on a given legislative day there are many other issues competing for their attention. Further, they may wonder how issues decided in Raleigh are likely to affect the bottom lines of residents and businesses back home.

Continue reading Making the Business Case for Energy Policies: Lessons from Little Rock

The RACE for PACE: Residential PACE Starts to Inch Forward

Toirtoise & HareIn case you haven’t heard, Property Assessed Clean Energy programs have picked up the …. well, they’ve picked up the PACE. And just in the nick of time, as many federally-funded clean energy programs are running out of steam. Thirty states, including six in the Southeast, have enacted PACE-enabling legislation that gives local and state governments the authority to fund a property owner’s upfront costs for renewable energy system installations and energy efficiency improvements, enabling repayment through property assessments. These assessments are secured by the property itself and are paid as an addition to the owners’ property tax bills. Although residential PACE programs were initially off to a slow start, recently launched programs in California, Missouri, New York and Texas reveal that residential PACE, like its commercial PACE counterpart, might just take us across the clean energy finish line.

 

 

Continue reading The RACE for PACE: Residential PACE Starts to Inch Forward