Increasingly faced with finding creative ways to afford major capital programs, many utilities are exploring alternative funding options that will help expedite their projects and reduce the burden to ratepayers. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has accomplished an impressive step in this direction by being selected for a new Environmental Protection Agency WIFIA (Water Infrastructure and Financing Innovation Act) loan that could save ratepayers over $200 million.
SFPUC, California’s third largest municipal water agency, provides potable water to 2.7 million Bay Area residents and treats 40 billion gallons of wastewater annually for 800,000 San Francisco residents. The $625-million WIFIA loan will fund roughly half of SFPUC’s $1.27 billion biosolids facilities upgrades, a project led by environmental engineering firm Brown and Caldwell, that will upgrade critical components of the City’s aging sewer system infrastructure and support the city’s sustainability goals by maximizing energy recovery, reducing emissions, minimizing potable water use through recycling and producing Class A biosolids for beneficial reuse.
The SFPUC loan was the largest in a pool of 43 applicants and is one of only 12 projects nationwide selected by the EPA. The loan represents a quarter of SFPUC’s overall $2.9 billion budget for Phase 1 of its sewer system improvement program.
Knowing the profound impact this loan would have on SFPUC’s ability to serve the public, Brown and Caldwell assisted the utility to apply for the loan. The letter of interest included the projects conceptual engineering report, which was produced by the BC team which includes Black & Veatch, CH2M, MWA Architects, SRT and Structus as major partners. WIFIA loans offer significant financial advantages over revenue bonding, giving ratepayers the opportunity to save over $200 million in interest payments over the life of the loan.
“With our company’s roots beginning in San Francisco on Sansome Street in 1947, we celebrate SFPUC for landing this exclusive loan,” said Tracy Stigers, BC vice president and project manager for the biosolids project. “Rarely do you have an opportunity to have a positive economic impact of this magnitude.”
Located in Bayview-Hunters Point, the Southeast Treatment Plant, where the biosolids digester upgrades are taking place, is the city’s largest wastewater facility. When upgrades are complete, it will stand as an aesthetically-pleasing community asset, while also protecting the health of the community and environment and giving residents opportunities for education and employment.
“The teamwork and effort by SFPUC in putting this loan application proposal together was fantastic and shows that the interests of their community are top of mind,” said Stigers.