Category: Drinking Water & Wastewater (page 1 of 43)

New Year, New Updates

Updates for Navigating Legal Pathways to Fund Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs

In 2017, the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led a team of experts in summarizing legal barriers and opportunities to establish customer assistance programs using rate revenue, resulting in Navigating Legal Pathways to Fund Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs. Below is a brief summary of noteworthy changes that have taken place since that report was published in July 2017.

As water and wastewater prices continue to increase, due to a variety of factors, more utilities may find the need to establish assistance programs for some of their customers. In light of this and due to the passing and amending of new/old legislation, the EFC periodically updates all current state and territory summaries, and additionally, will be adding summaries for the other U.S. territories not previously included. Continue reading

How Important was Water Pricing in Achieving Conservation Goals During the California Drought?

California’s severe drought and statewide conservation mandate provided an opportunity to analyze the effects of pricing strategies as a tool to curb water use. In 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board was charged with implementing a reduction of 25 percent on the state’s local water supply agencies. One of the strategies the Board suggested to local agencies was to look at ways rate structures could provide a financial incentive, also known as a price signal, to customers to conserve water.

Did water agencies with higher price signals achieve greater water savings than others? In some cases, yes. But not always.

A team from the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed data on hundreds of California water agencies’ water pricing, residential water use, and production data from the mandatory conservation period from June 2015 to May 2016, resulting in three key takeaways for one major conclusion: no single pricing strategy works for every agency in reducing water use. Continue reading

Five Considerations for Municipal CNG Fleet Conversion

Kate Fialko is a fellow in the 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. Kate spent the summer of 2018 with Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), where she assisted with an investigation into possible productive use of biogas from the wastewater treatment process. She built a preliminary model to determine whether a town could economically convert its fleet to run on CNG.

Many of us know the wastewater treatment process generates water clean enough to put back into the environment, but it also produces biogas. Biogas is the mix of gases produced by anaerobic digestion (the breakdown of organic material in the absence of oxygen) and, since a primary component is methane, it can be used as an alternative fuel source. Utilities commonly use a portion of the biogas they generate to fuel the digestion process and then flare the remaining biogas to dispose of it. Rather than just emit this excess biogas, some utilities are investigating additional ways to productively use biogas in order to save fuel and increase resiliency by creating a new energy source. Options include using the biogas to fuel a combined heat and power system and injecting processed biogas into a natural gas pipeline.

Another option is converting biogas into compressed natural gas (CNG) for use in vehicles.  Typically a utility needs to have consistent CNG customers for this to be worthwhile financially, and converting a municipal fleet to run on CNG could provide the needed demand. However, municipalities must carefully consider any fleet conversion decision to ensure they are using tax payer dollars efficiently. Continue reading

Capacity and Environmental Services

Evan Kirk is a fellow in the 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As part of the LEAF Fellowship, Evan worked with Envirolink over the summer of 2018. Evan’s work with Envirolink relied on using information gathering and data communication to improve Envirolink’s managerial capacity survey. This survey assesses and scores a wide variety of utility managerial, financial, and policy performance metrics.

Capacity, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, includes technical, managerial, and financial capabilities, also known as TMF capacity. Systems with sufficient TMF capacity can safely and consistently provide drinking water and wastewater services to their customers and are far less likely to receive notices of violation (NOVs) for non-compliance than systems with insufficient capacity. Conversely, systems that are struggling to develop or maintain capacity may be at an increased risk for operational problems such as non-compliance violations. One option for these struggling systems is to contract with companies like Envirolink for excess technical, managerial, and financial capacity.

Envirolink is a full-service utility management company that specializes in providing water, wastewater, and public works services to both public and private clients across the Carolinas. One component of Envirolink’s business model is lending excess capacity to systems in two major ways: first, through the operation and maintenance of physical assets, and second, through the provision of managerial and financial consulting services. Continue reading

Seeing is Believing: The Role of Visualization in Environmental Finance

Elizabeth Roknich is a fellow in the 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. She spent summer 2018 at NC GreenPower, a Raleigh-based renewable energy nonprofit. Her work there included financial modeling, cost benefit analyses for program changes, and data visualization work in Tableau, which she used to create two dashboards to highlight their renewable energy generators and their Solar Schools program

Data visualization is a term you might have heard buzzing around lately, gaining popularity and attention across many fields. The idea behind visual representation is not new; people have been explaining data pictorially for centuries, from maps to graphs and on from there. Because of the way the human brain processes information, we are naturally able to understand data in visual formats more easily and quickly than in spreadsheets or reports.

What has really made data visualization boom, however, is the current capacity that computers have to process data at lightning speeds, and the sheer amount of data being collected at any given moment. Continue reading

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