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Evaluating investment options

Evaluating investment options

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    GAFFI

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    CULLEN

By Mike Matichich

Who: Clean Water Services, Hillsboro, Ore.
Treatment works: Four wastewater facilities that process a total 58 mgd
Miles sanitary sewer: 769
Miles storm sewer: 439
No. customers: 527,000
2011 operating budget: $56 million
2011 capital budget: $58 million

In 2002 Hillsboro, Ore.'s award-winning Clean Water Services hired engineering firm CH2M Hill to work with utility employees to develop a user-friendly tool for analyzing the financial and nonfinancial aspects of potential capital investments.

The initiative was part of a larger overall effort — “Controlling Our Destiny” — the utility had formulated several years earlier to take proactive steps to increase the value proposition for customers. In addition to operating four treatment plants, Clean Water Services builds and maintains flood management and water quality projects and manages flow in the Tualatin River to improve water quality and protect fish habitat. Managers consider themselves to be in the business of water resource management.

The result of the public-private collaboration is ProjectSelect, an Excel spreadsheet that models present value, pay-back period, and equivalent annual cost of various options and allows users to take range-of-cost estimates into consideration, based on the accuracy of the cost estimates. It also can factor in relevant nonfinancial considerations like impact on operational efficiency, contribution toward sustainability or other community objectives, and opportunities to coordinate work with other infrastructure projects. Developing the model in Excel allows widespread use by staff throughout the utility familiar with the use of spreadsheet applications.

“The most important benefit is that it allows the application of consistent decision-making protocols, such as return on investment, when evaluating capital planning and other investment options,” says General Manager Bill Gaffi. This consistency has provided a new level of credibility with the utility's board of directors.

In 2009, managers decided to refine the tool.

“The original model was an internal tool to help make informed decisions and explain the results to the operations and maintenance groups,” says Engineering Division Manager Nate Cullen. “The upgrades improve the presentation of outputs to better communicate with decision-makers like the general manager and budget committee.”

The enhanced ProjectSelect is more intuitive, making it easier for users to conduct sensitivity analyses and document the basis for decisions.