The American Water Works Association is considering a draft policy statement on “Affordability.”

The proposed affordability policy is stated to have been approved by the organizatiońs Technical and Educational Council and will be considered by its Board of Directors.

The draft policy would read as follows:

The American Water Works Association recognizes that providing reliable and high-quality water, wastewater, reuse, and stormwater services at just, reasonable, non-prejudicial, and non-discriminatory rates and charges to all customers is fundamental to a utility’s mission. To be financially sustainable, utilities optimize expenditures through operating efficiencies, implement water conservation and resource management best practices, and prudently manage capital, operating, and financing costs. However, even with sound planning and budgeting practices, some utilities are faced with affordability challenges among some of their low-income residential customers. Such affordability challenges can occur in any community, regardless of size, location, demographic makeup, and income of the customers.

AWWA strongly recommends the adoption of policies and procedures by utilities, regulators, and local and state governments to address the affordability challenges experienced by some of their residential customers. Utilities should work closely with their local, state, provincial, and national governments to ensure that applicable laws and policies do not impede utility efforts to address affordability challenges and evaluate new policies that allow disadvantaged households to have reliable access to utility services.

Low-income customer assistance can take many different forms that should be designed and implemented to meet the unique challenges of individual communities. Effective communication and education programs targeting fiscally challenged households are also important to build awareness about available assistance programs and strategies to use water more efficiently.

Implementing long-term solutions to meet affordability challenges entails applying both existing tools and modification of current local and state policies. Along with partners, effective locally appropriate solutions can deliver assistance to financially challenged households through collaboration with existing community service programs, customer assistance programs operated for other utilities (such as energy service), and community housing assistance programs.

AWWA describes itself as an international, nonprofit, scientific and educational society dedicated to providing total water solutions assuring the effective management of water.

By Kevin Stark

States could encourage investment in smart-grid apps and software by changing rules that reward spending on capital instead of services.

Smart meters produce an endless stream of data for utilities, but outdated regulations discourage them from investing in apps and software that could make use of the information.

A recent report from the Advanced Energy Economy Institute (AEE) urges states to consider reforms that would give utilities more financial incentive to embrace cloud computing and other technology. Illinois is among a handful of states already considering such changes.

The problem stems from the way most utilities make money: Companies are generally rewarded for making capital investments — think power plants or computer hardware — but not for operational costs such as salaries or software services.

As smart meters become increasingly common, the potential for cloud computing to produce tangible benefits for customers and the electric grid is growing, too. That́s why some want to see a way for utilities to incorporate those investments into a rate base.

“The financial incentives — and what they motivate utilities to do — are not always in the best interest of customers,” said Danny Waggoner, an author of the AEE report, Utility Earnings in a Service-Oriented World, which outlines ways that cloud computing and distributed energy could replace capital investment as a major source of revenue for utilities.

The report describes five potential regulatory models designed to help utilities invest in services rather than capital “at equal or lower cost to customers, while in many cases providing equivalent or greater earnings to the utility.”

As distributed energy resources rise and more and more smart devices are plugged into the grid, utilities need more advanced systems to analyze all the data, and many argue that this work should be outsourced to IT professionals. Smart meter data, for example, could be used in apps that help customers see how much it costs to run devices or appliances at certain times of the day.

“I think the best interests of the customer is to allow utilities to consider all of its options on equal footing,” Waggoner said. “Whether it is a capital investment or a service expenditure, [utilities should] make a decision on the merits of the technology and on the cost savings it can provide to customers rather than to be concerned about an earnings issues that really shouldńt be getting in the way of a good decision.”

A week after the report́s release, Waggoner met with officials from the Illinois Commerce Commission, one of the first to take up the issue.

The Commissiońs CEO, Brien Shehan, has argued for years that regulators need to “level the playing field” between hardwired software and cloud systems, and that new IT models can improve the power transmission system and reduce the cost to utilities and customers.

In December, after years of input from stakeholders, the Commission voted to begin the process for a rule change that would let utilities earn a return from investments in cloud-computing systems that help deliver power and online services to customers.

The Commissiońs move has been applauded by business and technology groups. Richard Caperton, director of national policy and regulatory affairs for Oraclés Utilities Global Business Unit, said emerging technologies can save customers money and provide a better service.

“Ím excited to see regulation in Illinois catching up with the IT revolution,” he said.

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