In the course of conducting our statewide utility rates surveys, we here at the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examine thousands of rate structures each year. We’ve seen it all, from the especially complex to the most basic. One thing we have noticed is that sometimes utilities create complicated rate structures when the same outcomes could be accomplished in simpler ways. We internally deem these “special cases.”
Everyone wants to be special, right? But when it comes to rate structures, special often means needlessly convoluted. One of the most important objectives for utilities should be to communicate their rates clearly to their customers. When rate structures are complicated, communication with customers also becomes complicated. Simple rate structures can have the same desired outcomes as more complex ones, while making communication with customers more straightforward and billing easier. It can pay to be plain. Continue reading
The White House’s Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, which was released early this year, outlines the President’s proposed steps to encourage increased state, local, and private investment in infrastructure. And though you’ve probably heard a lot about it, chances are you haven’t had the time to read and reflect on the 55 page document. So what might the President’s plan mean for infrastructure in your community? While the plan outlines programs for infrastructure of all sectors, this post provides a quick overview of the four proposed programs with relevance to water infrastructure.
Water and sanitation access challenges are often thought of in the extremes—lack of a clean water source in a village or community or lack of indoor plumbing in homes. But the reality is that many individuals living in or around some of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the United States, with some of the most sophisticated drinking water and wastewater systems and infrastructure, suffer from significant access challenges as well.
Access to clean and safe water does not come easily. While we may have mental images of people in distant parts of the world spending their whole day traveling to and from water sources and preparing it so that it is safe to consume, in the United States, we’ve come to expect clean and safe water at the turn of a tap. This water that flows freely from our faucet didn’t get there quickly, however. In order to provide safe and clean drinking water, systems collect water, treat it through various means, and disseminate it out through a complicated infrastructure system, so that it can show up in our household when we want it. Large urban water systems in the United States may have their own special challenges with consent orders and older infrastructure. But small water systems in the United States have special challenges owing to their size. There are probably more of these small water systems in this country than you realize.
We’re all in agreement that how you pay for it matters, but is it possible that when you pay for it matters too? Some utilities are experimenting with prepayment plans, in which customers pay in advance for a set amount of service. Continue reading