October 7, 2022

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Eugene asks EWEB if ambitious electrification plan is possible

7 min read

The City of Eugene asks if EWEB can support its ambitious plans for electrification.

[00:00:07] General Manager Frank Lawson: Frank Lawson, general manager. We received a series of questions from the city on June 3. First of all, we wanted to try to interpret the questions and develop a series of questions that we could develop responses to, that would be used not only with the response to the city, but the general public. And more of an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) type of approach. And so we’ve worked across different departments to start to formulate responses to those.

[00:00:34] I think based on the questions, there’s a recognition that electrification has impacts not just to EWEB but to the electric system at large—so the regional and in fact the Western grid.

[00:00:51] Commissioner John Barofsky: I see the questions as the bumper sticker. Because in some of the things that the city’s dealing with on this, you’ll hear— and I’ll just put it out there—‘Well, if we electrify, then you’re just burning coal in Idaho.’ Right? That’s the bumper sticker. It’s easy to have a soundbite, but when you start digging into it, it’s a much deeper topic.

[00:01:11] I guess one of the questions that I would have is beyond the questions that the City of Eugene asked, are there more bumper sticker questions that we could put into this FAQ that would help the conversation as far as climate change and as far as electrification, and as far as some of the other issues that our community’s dealing with, that we feel would be appropriate to put into this FAQ as well.

[00:01:38] General Manager Frank Lawson: We wanted to be able to expand the topic list as things come up, in fact there’s more FAQs—I think there’s 18 questions listed and there were not 18 questions in total from the city.

[00:01:50] We really tried to look at this as a little bit of a broader issue. We also tried to remove a bit of the editorializing in the question itself that, which, oftentimes if you watch different entities operate there’s a whole series of statements with a question at the end and it’s more about the question than it is about the response to the question.

[00:02:11] And so we wanted to be able to offer responses that had a foundation that we could trace to various studies or different things. And that doesn’t always lead to a yes or no answer. It leads to an answer that doesn’t necessarily draw the conclusion for you, but it provides input to that.

[00:02:32] Commissioner Mindy Schlossberg: I really appreciate the way that this is laid out and if there are opportunities for you to editorialize a little bit, I know maybe you’re little hesitant because of our joint meeting last time, but I do think that, like, they only know what they know and what to ask. So if there’s more expertise or things like that as an agency that we would recommend to them, I think that that could be really useful too.

[00:02:59] General Manager Frank Lawson: Thank you. I would say that our responses do contain a utility perspective. I wouldn’t say that they’re editorialized per se. But they approach the responses very specifically from a utility’s perspective, recognizing that is different from a city’s perspective or from a certain group’s perspective, or from Northwest Natural’s perspective.

[00:03:20] This is from our perspective, based on what we know is going on within EWEB, what’s going on in the region, so it does have that perspective, but I think we also want to in particular avoid taking positions based on those perspectives. And we’ll just provide the perspectives and let others interpret that based on whatever decision they make.

[00:03:41] Commissioner Sonya Carlson: I really appreciate where the sources of the information have been given too. I think it’s pretty valuable for those groups to understand that it’s not just us creating this information, that it’s more widely vetted and then they don’t think that we’re, you know, you can trace the source.

[00:04:00] Commissioner Matt McRae: I’m grateful that the city has formally inquired with EWEB about the implications of limiting natural gas use. I know this has been, at least from my perspective, a long time coming. I’m glad that we’re getting this all written down and provided to the council. And I think these responses will help to reduce misconceptions within the public and among other elected officials.

[00:04:19] Thanks for the effort on behalf of staff who have put in certainly a number of hours answering these questions.

[00:04:25] And so my question for you, Frank, is: Are you going to be available for a discussion with the council or is that in the works of any kind? And I hope we’ll continue to offer to make EWEB expertise available to answer questions during council meetings. I think that real-time feedback when they’re having the conversation is as valuable and as important as this written statement of responses.

[00:04:50] General Manager Frank Lawson: Excellent point, Commissioner McRae. I will certainly make myself available as well as staff resources to the City of Eugene at and when they need that. I do know that they have a meeting coming up later this month, that I will plan to personally attend, that has to do with natural gas and electrification.

[00:05:10] Commissioner John Brown: I also need to make sure that what everybody has said is absolutely vetted there because council’s got to deal with police and land use and human rights. They’ve got to be experts in 20 different fields. We get to be expert in just a couple. And I hope that we are available with our resources, both verbally and written, to make sure that if—when we go down this path of electrification, that we do it in such a manner that we were able to meet their expectations.

[00:05:32] Because if they go out and think that we can do something that we really can’t do, we have to make sure we’re staying right in that conversation and making sure they’re educated about what is real and what is not real in this movement to do what we’re doing. Because I don’t want to see us getting into a place where we can’t meet their expectations or it gets, you know, dump on the utility industry that we couldn’t comply. So I think it’s important. I like what you’re doing, so, thank you very much.

[00:06:00] Commissioner John Barofsky: Certain people are going to say, ‘Look at this and look at this.’ And we’re going to have bumper stickers that are going to come out of this document. Just so we’re aware that people are going to come and say, ‘Well, EWEB, said this in their FAQs,’ and they’ll pull one out that will fit whatever they are trying to advocate for. And so, just be ready for that as well.

[00:06:21] General Manager Frank Lawson: I appreciate you bringing that up, Commissioner. I think anytime you document something that’s a complicated issue, especially one where there’s some differences of opinion on those types of issues, people can take a response out of context. And so we’re trying to provide as much context as we can, but certain things can be lifted in the wrong moments or at the wrong times, without that context, to pursue a certain purpose or outcome.

[00:06:46] We also have to be cognizant of the fact that—to Commissioner Brown’s point—that the city has a very broad set of issues. By having a set of narrow but deep issues, we have a different set of criteria that we’re evaluating.

[00:07:01] For example, I have to sit in meetings with utility colleagues who are wrestling with a grid that’s under pressure. And a city council can look at this and we can look at this from EWEB’s perspective and say, ‘Well, EWEB can do this. Look at the goals we have. This is simple.’

[00:07:16] At the same time we rely on a grid that has a whole separate, unique set of challenges with it. And so by bringing up those challenges, it can be the other way around, which is, ‘Well, you’re now a climate avoider or climate denier, because you’re saying there’s challenges in your ability to do this.’ And that’s not necessarily accurate either.

[00:07:39] So we have to be careful on both sides of the context issue. That’s why we’re trying to be really careful as to how we respond to these questions by saying, yes, there’s EWEB issues. There’s grid issues. There’s customer issues and trying to balance the whole set of those. But you’re right. There are certain things that people will extract for their own purposes.

[00:07:59] John Q: The draft document is available online.

[00:08:03] General Manager Frank Lawson: This became live actually today in draft form. This is the draft, but we will continue to refine a little bit and then get a formal document to the city.

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