Category: Financial Benchmarking (page 1 of 4)

New Year, New Chart? 4 Tips for More Effective Data Visualization

Here at the Environmental Finance Center we work with a lot of data, but all the data in the world is useless if you can’t convey the story of the data to people who need to understand it. In line with our mission to support informed financial decision-making, we produce Utility Financial Sustainability and Rates Dashboards and Excel-based tools to help local governments and stakeholders visually decode complex data. Since I joined the EFC last year as a Data Specialist & Project Manager, I’m happy to say that it is my job to make sure that the visualizations we produce get the message across as efficiently and accurately as possible. Based on my experience I’ve put together some tips on how to give your charts a makeover to give your viewers the biggest impact.

However, you don’t have to be a data nerd to benefit from these makeover guidelines (although, welcome to the club if you are!). Anyone can use the following tips for more effective visualizations, whether you’re presenting at a board meeting or reviewing your own personal budget.

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Key Financial Indicators for Water Systems: Revenue Stability

“Are our water utility’s rates right?” This is an often difficult question that arises at our  workshops and webinars for small water systems, through our direct technical assistance, and which many of our readers may be interested in. While there is no simple answer, we have addressed the issue in a series blog posts on key financial indicators for water systems, including a discussion of conservation signal as a key financial benchmark to consider in rate setting. While the initial answer continues to be “It depends,” another element to consider (among the numerous factors to consider and rank in importance) is revenue stability.

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Watts Up With Cost Recovery for Municipal Residential Electric Utilities in North Carolina?

How financially healthy are the municipal residential electric utilities in North Carolina? That is a broad question, and one of keen interest to many customers of those utilities. This is especially true at a time when Duke Energy Progress and the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency (NCEMPA) are discussing the possibility of Duke Energy Progress purchasing NCEMPA’s electric generating assets, and where rate payers may be wondering what such a sale could mean for their future electric rates, as discussed in this previous blog post on affordability of residential electricity in N.C. Continue reading

$napshot: Debt Service as Percent of Total Operating Revenues

Debt Service as Percent of Total Operating Revenues in FY2012

Last Thursday, while we were presenting one of two Water Research Foundation webinars (view recordings of the webcasts for free) on the financial strategies that water utilities have or can employ to improve revenue resiliency against changing financial trends, a participant on the webinar asked if we have any benchmarks on debt service as a percent of operating revenues. The graph above shows how debt service in FY2012 compared to the total operating revenues of 645 debt-paying water/wastewater utilities across the U.S. from Moody’s rating agency. 58% of the debt-paying utilities spent between 10% and 30% of their total operating revenues on debt service in FY2012. Only 11% of the utilities spent more than 40% of their revenues on debt service in that year. There does not seem to be a major distinction between small and large utilities in terms of the proportion of revenue spent on debt service. In our recently published WRF report, Defining A Resilient Business Model for Water Utilities, we showed that this proportion of debt service to operating revenues remained relatively steady between FY2003 and FY2012, despite declining water use. Spending a quarter of annual operating revenues on debt service requires careful financial planning on behalf of the utility since debt service is a fixed cost that must be paid regardless of fluctuating water sales and revenues. These findings are part of the research for Water Research Foundation project #4366.

A $napshot is a graphic revealing an interesting environmental finance finding accompanied by a short post. This $napshot was created by Shadi Eskaf.

Tap dancing around impact fees: Residential connection fees for drinking water and wastewater systems in GA and NC

David R. Tucker is a Project Director at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

tap and impact fees 2

Key: 1. Water Main; 2. Water Tap; 3. Water Meter; 4. Private Plumbing (water line); 5. Private Plumbing (wastewater line); 6. Wastewater Main.
Source: City of Fort Worth, Texas

My work at the UNC Environmental Finance Center frequently centers around the study, benchmarking, and understanding of rates, especially residential rates: charges per unit across time (such as dollars per kilowatt hour for kWh of electricity used in a month; or dollars per gallon, for thousands of gallons of drinking water used in a quarter; and so on). You can see the results of our work on rates by yours truly and my colleagues in sophisticated tools that we have developed, such as our drinking water and wastewater rates dashboards, our stormwater rates dashboards, and our electric rates dashboards, among many other tools and reports that the EFC has created. Continue reading

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