This is the second post in a three-part blog series on data management. This post will focus on the data handling processes involved in the development of the EFC’s Revenueshed tool.
As mentioned in the first part of this blog series If you build the data platform, will they come?, EFC’s design team regularly asks the following three questions when creating a new tool.
(1) Who are the users?
(2) What is the project’s purpose?
(3) What data exists to support this purpose?
Guest Post By Nicholas Smith of Raftelis
A new fiscal year typically means new water and wastewater rates for utilities in Florida. Florida utilities have long relied upon small and predictable annual rate increases to ensure their rates are sufficient to cover the cost to serve their customers. In setting rates, Florida utilities have always depended on careful financial analysis. Although COVID-19 has complicated this norm — Florida utilities can still proceed with rate changes, but it is best to proceed with some enhanced strategy. With universally high unemployment rates and utility governing bodies more concerned about affordability than ever, research by Raftelis shows utilities are moving ahead with rate increases, but they are looking for more data than before to support their decisions.
Co-written by Erin Ansbro
Right now, water utilities are facing great uncertainty about the coming months and years. When will moratoria on water shut-offs end? When will water consumption be back to “normal”? Will utility staff get COVID-19? And the “Big One” — What will revenue loss be for utilities in the coming months and years? While answers to these questions remain unknown during these unprecedented times, guidance from the past can help utilities think through strategies that may save them money now and in the future. Here, we distill information from a previous EFC report about approaches utilities took in response to the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and discuss how the findings relate to circumstances under COVID-19 conditions.
The report, written in partnership with the Water Research Foundation, comes from ideas discussed during a two-day forum with 17 CEOs of utilities which serve between 78,000 to 19 million customers. During the forum, leaders “discussed how they acted to mitigate the recession’s impact and adapt to a changed financial and economic environment” (p. xi). Although these approaches were used by large utilities, some may be appropriate for smaller utilities. These approaches are starting points for consideration, but are NOT intended to be a specific road map or a recipe for success. In addition to the overarching themes and summary, the report lists some future research needs and then gives details on the 48 strategies implemented by the forum participants. Continue reading
Written by Stephen Lapp
At the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, we are always communicating that how you pay for it matters, but could how often you pay for it matter as well? It may seem counter-intuitive to think that receiving bills more regularly would be positive, but there are many reasons why utilities have trended towards monthly billing and away from bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or even annual billing. From FY2007 to FY2019, there has been an 8% increase in utilities that bill monthly in North Carolina, all of which switched from less frequent billing. Here are some reasons that water utilities are trending towards more frequent billing patterns: Continue reading
Daniel Willems is a fellow in the 2019 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As part of the LEAF Fellowship, Daniel worked with Envirolink over the summer of 2019. Daniel is a second year Masters candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC. He currently works at the EFC as a Research Assistant on a water and wastewater regionalization project.
Across the country, communities are dealing with a shortage of water and wastewater treatment plant operators. This shortage – largely due to retirements occurring in an aging workforce – is leaving many municipalities in need of immediate replacements or short-term transition plans. Without qualified individuals to ensure state and federal standards are met for our drinking water and our wastewater, communities run the risk of failing to provide an essential public health service to their residents and local businesses.
Small, rural towns are particularly at risk. Many of these municipalities rely on operators to be far more than just operators. Small water system operators are often the system record keepers and have extensive system knowledge that may not be written or stored anywhere but in their own minds. A sudden retirement, illness, or extended leave has the potential to significantly impair system operations.
I learned about the importance of skilled operators and the issues that may arise when they are not present this summer as an EFC Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) Fellow at Envirolink, a private utility management company. Envirolink operates under a managerial capacity sharing model, which is a public-private regionalization solution. Below are three possible solutions I evaluated to forestall and alleviate the consequences of an impending operator shortage. Continue reading