Bond sale and refi to save water users at least $17.5 million over time
The final few minutes before Denver Water’s 2020 bond sale, after months of discussion, planning and work, were the most stressful for Usha Sharma.
“You and your team do all the work, and we were ready, we were prepared, but you always wonder ... will anyone bid? Will it go well?” said Sharma, Denver Water’s treasurer.
They did bid, and the bond sale did go well. Very well.
On May 6, Denver Water issued two sets of tax-exempt bonds that, combined, will bring the utility about $300 million in proceeds, minus costs associated with the issuance.
The money will help reimburse Denver Water for a portion of the utility’s capital improvement program in 2019 and 2020, and refinance existing bonds at lower interest rates, savings that will be passed along to Denver Water customers by helping to minimize future rate increases. The utility anticipates a $1.5 billion capital improvement program over the next five years.
Denver Water’s five-year program includes building the new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant, replacing a major water pipeline that dates to the 1930s, upgrading water storage infrastructure in southeast Denver, expanding Gross Reservoir Dam in Boulder County and replacing old, customer-owned lead service lines across the service area through the Lead Reduction Program.
“The bond sale went tremendously well, with multiple competitive bidders and historically low interest rates, allowing us to pass on savings to our customers. This successful bond issue is a tribute to the financial strength and stability of Denver Water, due to the hard work our teams put into delivering a safe, reliable and clean water supply to 1.5 million people,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager of Denver Water.
“We also couldn’t have done this without our customers, who built the strong, diverse and flexible economy praised by the credit agencies in their reports,” Lochhead said.
Both bond issues, Series2020A and Series2020B, received triple-A ratings with a stable outlook from the three major credit rating agencies, Fitch Ratings, S&P Global and Moody’s Investor Service.
Denver Water expects to see proceeds from the sale of the Series2020A issue of about $155.4 million, to be repaid over 30 years at a 3.02% interest rate. This new bond issue will help pay for Denver Water’s capital upgrades.
Proceeds from the issue of Series2020B are expected to be about $147.7 million, repaid over 20 years at an interest rate of 2.09%. This money will refinance bonds Denver Water issued in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
The low interest rates on the bonds will save Denver Water and its customers money in repayment costs over the years.
Savings on just the refinanced bonds alone are expected to be $17.5 million due to lower interest rates, Sharma said.
The three credit agencies, in their reports, cited Denver Water’s financial strength, its management team and the metro area’s economy as reasons for the high credit rating for the new and existing bonds. Those strengths held even under the strain of curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Moody’s cited Denver Water’s “sound” track record of making debt payments and ensuring a financial reserve, manageable capital plan and rates that are set at a level to cover the utility’s costs.
S&P credited part of Denver Water’s strength to the people it serves and the “broad and diverse” economy across the metro area, which — the agency added — it views as “economically strong.”
S&P and Fitch both called Denver’s water rates affordable.
Fitch, in its report, described Denver Water’s “proactive response to the coronavirus outbreak” to ensure continuity of operations and financial stability.
Denver Water’s response to the COVID-19 situation includes increasing the distance between employees by having all employees who can work remotely, work from their homes or other locations, and requiring social distancing among employees who still need to report to a facility or job site.
The agencies said they continue to monitor the situation around the coronavirus nationwide but stated that impacts at Denver Water are likely to be mitigated by a strong financial situation and “a strong, forward-looking management team.”
“Doing a bond issue is a team effort, and the success rests on the work of so many people across Denver Water who do their jobs so well, and that extends to our customers as well. We all work together,” Sharma said.