5 reasons to annually update electric construction overhead rates - the icing on the cake
- Jun 9, 2021 10:23 pm GMT
Electric overhead costs are the icing on the cake of an electric project - while the cake contains most ingredients, a cake is not a cake without frosting. This frosting is made up of the overhead costs that make the construction process possible. These include:
Stores expense, aka. materials management costs
Cost of capital - the Allowance for Funds Used During Construction
Administrative and general overheads
If all project costs are not recorded, including these overheads, customers will not fully reimburse your electric utility or cooperative for the total costs of capital replacement. Cash flow will suffer, directly impacting customer service and system reliability.
Why should these costs be reviewed annually?
Here are five quick reasons in support of a regular review of overhead rates.
The case for adjusting overhead rates annually
1. Labor costs and benefits change annually - as labor costs change, the ratio of benefit costs to labor costs will also change. Also, benefit programs may change from year to year, and labor overhead rates should reflect those changes.
2. Business processes may change from year to year - in some areas, materials management, for example, changes in processes that result in greater efficiencies, i.e., how materials are handled, storage practices, and perhaps movement in the area of inventory reduction impacts stores expense rates.
3. Equipment costs change with age and technology - as utilities introduce more field technical tools and replace equipment, the cost of ownership changes.
4. Cost of capital is not static - interest rates change annually, as does the mix of financing for projects. Inflation will also impact the cost of capital. The changes in interest rates, financing mix, and inflation should be reflected in the cost of capital rate.
5. General and administrative costs reflect the current make-up of your organization - as your organization changes, so does the make-up of its supporting functions. Perhaps your utility or coop is implementing more Automated Intelligence (AI) practices in the finance area. Long-term, this should reduce costs and change processes, but up-front software and programming costs should be reflected in overhead rates.
6. Bonus comment. It is not a best practice to adjust overhead rates monthly. Costs will fluctuate over the ebb and flow of the year, and changing overhead rates monthly will over charge some projects with additional overhead costs and under charge other projects. Timing is everything in this scenario, and an annual rate reflects a smoothness to the application of overheads over the year.
Updating overhead rates should be part of the normal business planning cycle. As your utility or electric cooperative’s cost structure changes, projects in any given year should reflect those structural adjustments. Provide reliable customer service, but make sure those customers pay for the privilege of being served.
Russ Hissom is the owner of Utility Accounting Education Specialists (UAES), a company that offers online, on-demand, and custom utility accounting and finance business process courses and thought leadership. You can reach him at email@example.com. The puaes.com website has a wealth of classes, articles, and other online resources that will benefit your utility’s accounting and customer ratemaking strategies.
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