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What is CIAC Accounting? What are Contributions in Aid of Construction?

Russ Hissom's picture
Owner Utility Accounting Education Specialists - utilityeducation.com

Russ is the owner of Utility Accounting Education Specialists a firm that provides power utilities consulting services and online/on-demand courses on accounting, finance, FERC best-practices,...

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  • Feb 15, 2022
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CIAC accounting?

CIAC accounting is accounting for amounts paid by developers, customers, and governments for reimbursement of electric assets that a utility or co-op is constructing to serve them.

CIAC, or did you say Kayak? We’ll stick with CIAC/Kayak, so that we don’t get tired of saying or typing Contributions in Aid of Construction. 

Article Takeaways

1.     CIAC is contributions from customers that offset the cost of building electric infrastructure to serve them - (poles, overhead conductor, underground conductor, transformers, services).

2.     Electric co-ops and Private Sector Utilities credit CIAC contributions as offsets to project costs. These organizations follow FERC Accounting and Financial Accounting Standards Board Statements.

3.     Municipal Utilities and Joint Action Electric Agencies follow Governmental Accounting Standards Board Statements (GASB) standards. GASB requires recording CIAC as revenues and depreciating CIAC assets. This has a negative impact on electric rates.

4.     Luckily, GASB followers have an alternative method they can follow that eliminates the negative impact of CIAC on electric rates. 

 

What is CIAC?

It might sound complicated, but in plain language, a customer signs up for electric service in an area where there is no utility or co-op infrastructure. In order to receive service, the customer pays the utility or co-op to build the infrastructure. The payment is called a Contribution in Aid of Construction, or CIAC. The FERC Chart of Accounts and accounting standards shows the proper accounting for CIAC, but there are 2 methods that are used. 

The first method is for electric cooperatives and those utilities, mainly private sector utilities, that follow the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) standards. 

The second method is for those governmental utilities (municipals, joint action agencies) that follow the standards of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). As a bonus, we’ll throw in a 3rd method, but more on that later.

Case study for all methods

Here are the particulars from a case study that we’ll use for our inputs on all of the methods.

Situation

Utilities and co-ops in growing communities often find themselves the receiver of utility plant in service installed by developers. As subdivisions are installed for future homes, the infrastructure is put in place for electric service to the development’s properties, including electric overhead and underground facilities and services, as well as water and wastewater mains and services, and street infrastructure, like streets, curbs and gutters.

The developer pays for the improvements, but does not want ownership of them and thus “contributes” these to the co-op or utility. When the developer “contributes” these assets, the utility then maintains the assets. Eventually it must replace them at the end of their useful life. These are called Contributions in Aid of Construction.

In Our Town, a developer paid the electric utility $6 million to build electric facilities in a new residential subdivision. The accounting using each method would be as follows:

Method 1 - Private Sector Utilities and All Electric Cooperatives (FASB and FERC)

Method 1 is straightforward. The developer’s check or wire for $6 million is credited directly to the project’s cost. The entry:

Illustration 1 - CIAC - FERC and FASB Method

It seems redundant to make this entry, but in reality the work order that tracks the amount of cost the co-op/utility incurred to do the work to put the assets in service would have a running total of the project’s cost. The developer’s check offsets those project costs and the net cost is zero.

From an accounting and practical viewpoint, this makes perfect sense. The utility or co-op didn’t pay for the assets, so the assets should not be recorded with a value on the books of the entities. There is a twist though, these “zero value” assets are owned by the utility or co-op, must be maintained, and eventually replaced. So the assets should appear on the GIS maps for the utility or co-op. 

Method 2 - Municipal Utilities and Joint Action Electric Agencies (GASB)

Method 2 is not straightforward. We begin with some background on why the GASB approach is more complicated.

Governmental Accounting Standards Board Statement No. 33

GASB Statement No. 33 - Accounting and Financial Reporting for Non-exchange Transactions, requires that a utility recognize the CIAC assets as a revenue in the year the assets are installed, based on their installed cost. So, in the case of the GASB utility, the assets have a cost that equals the installed assets cost - $6 million (vs. the “zero asset cost” using FASB). 

The GASB utility must also recognize depreciation expense on these assets for which they did not pay to install. Recognizing the revenues following GASB 33 creates inequities in rate recovery between GASB and FASB utilities.

Revenue recognition using GASB

GASB principles use an “economic resources measurement focus” and the accrual basis of accounting. Under the accrual basis of accounting, revenues are recognized when earned and expenses are recorded when the liability is incurred or economic asset used. Revenues, expenses, gains, losses, assets and liabilities resulting from exchange and exchange-like transactions are recognized when the exchange takes place.

In plain language, under GASB standards the full transaction is recognized when it is earned. In this case, the CIAC assets were “earned” all in the year the assets were contributed by the developer even though the assets have a life of greater than one year (more like 25 - 35 years).

The entry that is made for the developer CIAC is:

Illustration 2 - CIAC - GASB 33 Method 2

CIAC example entries - GASB 33 approach - Method 2

If your utility does not have a lot of CIAC activity we recommend you stop with this entry. If there is a “material” amount of activity, you’ll like Method 3.

The problem with Method 2

The next step in the chain of events using Method 2 is for the utility to depreciate the CIAC assets. If we assume that the CIAC assets have a useful life of 30 years, then $200,000 of depreciation will be recognized annually and eventually the assets will need to be replaced. So, we are left with recognizing expense for assets we got for nothing and recording retirement entries for assets that technically have zero value.

Method 3 addresses this issue.

 

Method 3 - Use GASB 62 to offset the GASB 33 non-exchange effect

Governmental Accounting Standards Board Statement No. 62 - Regulated Operations section is used to match revenues and expenses to when they are included in electric rates and paid by customers. I call this “the intent standard”, i.e. the recording of the transaction should match the intent of the transaction.

The intent of the transaction is that there should not be depreciation expense charged to ratepayers for CIAC assets that the utility received at zero cost. The rate impact using this regulatory accounting treatment is zero. 

To reflect that intent, The CIAC piece of the transaction should be amortized over the life of the related assets by offsetting CIAC revenues against the depreciation expense recognized on the contributed assets. In plainer language, in our example, the assets have a life of 30 years ($6,000,000/30 years = $200,000). 

First, the following entry is made when the $6 million check is received:

Illustration 3 - Recording CIAC - Using GASB 62 Method 3 Approach

CIAC example entries - GASB 62 approach - Method 3

This treatment results in a net income statement impact of zero, which is the same final result as for a utility that follows FASB. The approach is a lot more convoluted, but yields the answer you would like to match rates to revenue recognition.

The Conclusion

For electric co-ops and FASB-following utilities, Method 1 is always the approach to follow. For municipal utilities, if there is not a lot of CIAC activity in your service territory, sticking with the straightforward approach of Method 2 is appropriate. If there is a lot of CIAC activity, we think you do your financials and ratepayers a dis-service if you don’t follow Method 3, which will offset the depreciation expense of CIAC assets and reduce depreciation expense in customer rates.



 

About the Author - Russ Hissom

Russ is the owner of Utility Accounting Education Specialists. He has over 35 years serving electric investor-owned and public power utilities, electric cooperatives, and telecommunications providers as a past partner in a national public accounting and consulting firm's energy practice. Russ was named one of the 2021 Top Voices in the Energy Central Community by EnergyBiz Network.

Find out more about about Utility Accounting Education Specialists here or you can reach Russ at russ.hissom@utilityeducation.com

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