Author: Kate Fialko

Exercise and Sport Science

System Development Fees in North Carolina After the New Law

In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly passed General Statute §162A Article 8 (Article 8) to establish guidelines for how local government water utilities may calculate and charge System Development Fees (SDFs). SDFs are up-front fees charged to new developments connecting to the water system for the first time. They are designed to at least partially recover the cost of infrastructure investments required to provide the water system capacity needed to serve the development. The law required utilities wishing to charge SDFs to perform a supporting analysis to calculate the fee and follow specific guidance laid out in Article 8 by July 1, 2018.

In 2018-2019, the Environmental Finance Center at UNC surveyed local government water and wastewater utilities’ SDFs and connection fees across the state. Out of all local governments with utilities, 81 utilities, serving 63% of the statewide water utility service population, had reviewed their SDFs following the law’s guidance prior to July 2018 and supplied their fee schedules and supporting analyses to the EFC. This blog discusses four takeaways from the survey results. 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

Three Strengths and Weaknesses of Water Quality Trading Policies

What types of environmental policies are protecting your local waterways?

When the US Environmental Protection Agency was first created, most regulations followed a command-and-control model in which polluters must meet requirements individually. Today, market-based environmental policies are increasingly popular. Todd BenDor, Associate Professor and Director of UNC’s City and Regional Planning PhD Program, recently gave a lecture on water quality trading and transfer of development rights programs and discussed his plans for research on these two types of market-based policies.

Water quality trading can be a viable means for producing substantial cost savings while meeting water quality goals. But what exactly is water quality trading and how can a community take full advantage of it? This post explores some of the potential benefits associated with water quality trading and hurdles to implementing a successful program. Continue reading