Here at the EFC, we are always looking for ways to support the sustainable financing of energy efficiency for communities around the country, including in our home state of North Carolina. In the Old North State, electricity customers are generally served by one of three kinds of utilities: Investor-owned utilities (IOU’s), co-operative utilities (co-ops), and municipal electrical utilities (munis). As part of the EFC’s energy and sustainability financing programs, we are now working on the Rural Community Energy and Economic Capacity Building Program, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI), to research and develop ways to help electricity customers in three small towns in northeastern North Carolina to have greater access to energy efficiency (EE) financing alternatives. Two of these three towns have their own municipal electric utilities.
This brings us to the key questions of this blog post: What are utilities already doing in North Carolina to promote and finance EE for their customers? What other alternatives exist? And why does this matter in the first place?
“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.
How can small (and large) water systems pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy, helping cut energy costs? As energy is often the largest variable expense in a water system’s operating budget, this is a recurring question for the ongoing Smart Management for Small Water Systems project. There are many answers on how to pay for energy improvements, such as in my previous blog post on energy savings performance contracting, and throughout the Environmental Finance Center’s clean energy finance work. One such financing mechanism which water systems could employ is the Internal Energy Revolving Fund. How do these funds work?
By Cole Wilhelmi and David Tucker
Ongoing severe drought conditions in the American Southwest offer the powerful reminder that our water resources should not be taken for granted. With increasing environmental pressure comes greater demand for policies and technologies that prioritize conservation and efficiency in water systems. The EFC examined these and other questions about water pricing, conservation, affordability, cost recovery, and regulation in a recent project to study water and wastewater rates and finances in the state of Arizona, in partnership with the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona.
One promising method to help communities achieve water supply sustainability goals is through the use of reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is treated wastewater that is reused in a variety of agricultural, commercial, and landscaping applications, instead of being discharged into dry washes, rivers, or lakes. The EFC’s aforementioned study on water and wastewater rates included our first survey of reclaimed water rates in Arizona, which is one of the few states in the union making extensive use of reclaimed water. In central Arizona, 95% of the wastewater generated is reclaimed to serve beneficial uses. And 82% of current water reuse in the U.S. overall occurs in Arizona, Texas, California, and Florida. Let’s now take a closer look at the regulations, advantages, and pricing for Arizona’s reclaimed water.
When I was growing up, my family would drive up each summer to the northeastern United States to visit my paternal grandparents. My grandmother grew up in a Swedish-speaking household, with Swedish immigrant parents, in the Boston area. From my grandmother, and my father, I learned many things as a boy about Sweden that fascinated me, like traditional holiday cooking, decorating, and dress, especially for St. Lucia’s Day, a winter holiday (December 13) that begins the extended celebration of Christmas. And I admired Sweden’s history of technological innovation, socioeconomic progress, and the push in their society for justice, peace, and a clean environment. For example, chemist Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896) established and endowed the Nobel Prizes (note that a prize for chemistry was just awarded to a UNC-Chapel Hill scientist). And Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) became the second Secretary General of the United Nations, posthumously receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961. There was much to admire about the land of my ancestors.
Sweden continues to innovate and move forward today on many such fronts. For example, with the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Nov. 30 – Dec. 11, 2015, in Paris, France) now imminent, Sweden has announced its intention to become one of the first countries in the world – and possibly even the first – to become fossil fuel free, generating all of its electricity from clean energy. The Paris U.N. meeting will be the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th overall Conference of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP11) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Paris conference intends to achieve a legally binding, universal agreement on climate from all the world’s nations (unlike Kyoto).
So far, Sweden has announced no timetable for implementation of the national fossil-fuel-free plan. Whatever the timeline, Sweden appears to intend to strengthen their attempts in Paris to persuade other countries to follow their example in international climate negotiations. But how will Sweden, a country of approximately 9.8 million people, pay for this ambitious plan? And have any other governments already attempted this?