Exploring Options for Debt Financing Distributed Infrastructure: A Preliminary Investigation for Tampa Bay Water

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With an ever-increasing demand for water, water and wastewater utilities around the country are examining ways to improve efficiency. Tied to the goal of improving water use efficiency is the question of how to finance these projects. One option is investing in distributed infrastructure, which includes improvements or device installations at diffused properties that reduce the need for expansion of the water system, through debt financing. Debt financing this type of infrastructure poses challenges to public entities that have traditionally only financed centralized infrastructure assets that they own and control.

Project Overview

The study, "Exploring Options for Debt Financing Distributed Infrastructure: A Preliminary Investigation for Tampa Bay Water", investigated the interest of one utility, Tampa Bay Water, to invest in distributed infrastructure by using publicly issued debt as a cost-effective method of water resource management. The Tampa Bay Water project specifically focuses on whether such a funding option is insurmountable in Florida.

To consider the feasibility of such investments, this study analyzed the legal framework under which Tampa Bay Water operates, including enabling legislation for regional water supply authorities and the Revenue Bond of Act of 1953. Specifically, this study identified the potential limitations based on narrow definitions and Tampa Bay Water’s bonding authority being limited to self-liquidating projects that the utility would face in debt financing distributed infrastructure. This study also discusses potential accounting and tax issues that may arise when utilizing this funding approach. In addition, this study compared innovations in the electricity sector that has allowed governments to utilize bonds to pay for conservation measures. While this study makes specific findings and conclusions for Tampa Bay Water, the overall analysis of the legal and other challenges is beneficial to other Florida utilities interested in debt financing distributed infrastructure.

What We Learned

Distributed infrastructure has become a significant part of green infrastructure and clean energy strategies for many communities. The nature of distributed infrastructure, which involves public assets to be placed on private property or at diffused locations, presents unique issues to water utilities tied to legal frameworks that how and what improvement projects can be paid for by customers. As more utilities seek to invest in projects that improve water use efficiency, the analysis contained in this report will serve as an important guide for Florida water utilities and others across the country.

The full report, published in 2017, can be accessed in the Resources tab.