Category: General Information (page 1 of 25)

20 Students for 20 Years: Mary Tiger

A Series Celebrating 20 Years of Environmental Finance

In 2019, the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrates its 20th anniversary. This milestone recognizes 20 years of excellence and even more dynamic, talented people. Throughout 2019, the EFC will publish 20 stories of exceptional student employees, projects, and impacts resulting in the inspiration that embodies who we are today and compels us to continue going further. Stories will be published biweekly at

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The first feature in our series: Mary Tiger, UNC MPA ’09 alumnus and Sustainability Manager at the Orange Water and Sewer Authority:

Mary Tiger serves as the Sustainability Manager at the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA). She is a 2009 graduate of the UNC Master of Public Administration program, and worked as an EFC research assistant during her time as an MPA student from 2007 to 2009. Before starting the MPA program, Mary worked as a utility conservation coordinator for a Colorado water, wastewater, and power utility.

The Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was one of the biggest attractants to the UNC Master of Public Administration program for ’09 MPA alumnus Mary Tiger.

“The EFC was one of the reasons I came to UNC for my graduate program,” Mary said. “The UNC MPA program at that time didn’t have much of a specific focus on the environment, so being an EFC research assistant was an opportunity that really drove my decision to come to UNC.” Continue reading

Partnering via Water and Sewer Authority Board Structures

As utilities across North Carolina consider new ways of partnering with each other, including full consolidation, many are looking at the Water and Sewer Authority model as a potential governance structure. Local governments devolving water asset ownership and control to an Authority or other regional governance structure are often concerned about maintaining some form of control in input on essential services. Under the Authority model, local governments can continue to participate in governance by appointing members to the Authority board.

State statutes provide local government members with the ability to structure their boards to meet their local needs and conditions. Board structures vary across the state based on number of board seats, number of seats allocated to (appointed by) each member, and voting rights of members. In order to better understand the driving forces behind the existing structures, staff from the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reviewed bylaws and articles of incorporation for all of the authorities, and additionally carried out informal interviews with individuals familiar with the board structures from many of the authorities.

The research focused on answering the following questions:

  • What is the status of existing board representation structure for Authorities across the state relative to the communities they serve?
  • What approaches were used to allocate seats on boards?
  • Have boards been modified over the years and, if so, why and how?

Continue reading

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

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