#ClimateWeek: 5 ways EWEB is addressing climate change 09/23/2021

It's #ClimateWeek, and as we transition out of Oregon's hottest summer on record - and one of its driest - and one of the worst wildfire seasons - climate change is on all of our minds.

There are rumors that it even rained at Autzen Stadium last weekend. 

At EWEB, we factor climate change into almost everything we do. Our elected commissioners challenge our staff with questions about how the changing climate will affect our electricity generation projects and water availability, and how stronger and more frequent storms will affect our customers and budgets.

This #NationalPreparednessMonth, we've been sharing how we're preparing our infrastructure to be more resilient to the challenges ahead. We are improving our extreme weather preparedness and response capabilities, replacing and reinforcing aging infrastructure, and developing redundant power and water sources and alternative delivery infrastructures to reduce future climate-related service disruptions.

But not only is EWEB preparing to be more resilient, we are actively working to address climate change.

As Eugene's publicly-owned utility, we strive to fulfill our roles reducing our community's carbon footprint, optimizing our use of clean energy, and helping our watershed adapt to a warmer climate.

Here are 5 ways EWEB is addressing climate change. 

1. EWEB leads the charge to electrify our transportation needs

Transportation accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. Given that our great, Pacific Northwest rivers provide enough carbon-free hydropower to meet 80% of our current electricity needs, accelerating our transition from fossil fuel-powered vehicles to electric vehicles is the fastest way to reduce our climate change contributions.

EWEB offers residential and commercial electric vehicle (EV) programs and incentives to encourage our customers to choose electric for their next vehicle. Some EVs do have higher sticker prices, but there are affordable options and EWEB estimates our customers who choose electric over gas can save least $800/year while also reducing their annual carbon footprint by 2.75-3.5 tons (depending on their current vehicle's MPG and the amount of miles they drive).

EWEB also provides EV charging stations where customers can charge their vehicles for free and is partnering with the City of Eugene, Saint Vincent de Paul, Lane Transit District, and Forth to launch EV ride-sharing programs in the next six months, including an EV ride-share program specifically for residents of affordable housing units. Sign up for EV news and updates here.  

2. EWEB anticipates future demands with proactive Electricity Supply Planning

Looking to the future, high levels of transportation and building electrification could increase EWEB's average annual energy consumption and peak energy demand. This is significant because, although EWEB's energy portfolio is composed almost entirely of carbon-free power, we are part of a highly integrated regional energy grid that includes coal and natural gas. During daily regional "peak" energy use, more of this carbon-intensive energy is required to meet the demands of the grid. 

EWEB's ongoing Electricity Supply Planning effort is aimed at optimizing our power resources, assets, infrastructure, and customer products and services so that we can continue to serve our community with clean, affordable and reliable power through strategies such as enhanced conservation and efficiency, peak load shifting, storage, and/or rate design changes.  

We are exploring questions such as: 

  • How will the demand for electricity change over time?
  • What risks does EWEB need to plan for and mitigate?
  • What products and services will customers expect?
  • What investments are needed?
  • How can we partner with others across the region to optimize the interconnected electric grid? 

Through our Greenpower program, we are also helping our community increase its own renewable energy capacity, building local solar installations and supporting local non-profits.

By proactively brainstorming solutions to these challenges, EWEB will be better positioned in future energy markets and will be more resilient to future energy demands.

3. EWEB offers Energy Efficiency Incentives to lower customer demands - and costs

While working towards these larger systems shifts in our energy portfolio, EWEB is helping our community chip away at its energy demands through expansive energy conservation and efficiency incentives. By helping our customers use less energy at their homes and businesses, they'll rely less on the grid, produce less greenhouse gas emissions, and free up electricity for EVs and other electrification initiatives.

EWEB offers residential and commercial rebates and loans to help our customers make these energy efficiency upgrades. We can help with projects like improving insulation and windows in homesinstalling energy-efficient LED lighting for businesses and upgrading to high-efficiency residential electric heating and cooling systems

4. EWEB cultivates climate adaptation throughout the McKenzie watershed by planting hundreds of thousands of trees, restoring floodplains, and reducing fire risk

Climate change hit home with the Holiday Farm Fire. The McKenzie River - the sole source of water for nearly 200,000 people in the Eugene area - will continue to see greater threats due to climate change in the forms of wildfire, landslides, droughts, floods, and stronger storms.

EWEB has a strong reputation of stewardship on the McKenzie and is helping our watershed and community adapt to these challenges. EWEB works with the Pure Water Partners to restore riparian forests and floodplains to increase their capacities to filter our drinking water, keep the river cool, and provide habitat for wildlife. These environments store more water on the landscape, reducing the risk and extent of wildfires and provide extra storage to absorb floods and debris flows from landslides.

Since the Holiday Farm Fire, EWEB and the Pure Water Partners have planted over 210,000 native trees and shrubs in the watershed. Those trees will function as buffers, filters, habitats, beautifiers, and carbon sequesters. We are also helping neighbors reduce potential fire fuels on their properties and supporting Firewise education, reducing the damage of future fires to our community and our watershed.

5. EWEB is pioneering carbon sequestration research

We all know that planting trees is one of the best ways to fight climate change. Trees pull carbon out of the atmosphere and give us oxygen to breathe. Trees clean our air, filter our water, and provide habitat, shade, and food.

To address the urgency that climate change demands, however, there's a lot more to this simple recipe. Which species of trees should we plant? Where to plant them? What happens if they catch on fire - where does that carbon go?

EWEB is hoping to answer these questions - and create scalable solutions - by partnering with the University of Oregon's Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Research Lab.

Working with Principal Investigator Lucas Silva, EWEB intends to learn which species of trees and planting combinations are the best at sequestering carbon into the soils of riparian areas. With that knowledge, EWEB will be able to advise best practices to both mitigate climate change by planting the most effective carbon sequestration forests, and to adapt to climate change by restoring riparian forests that are fire resilient and support watershed health.

"If there is a way to increase forest productivity, to increase the overall footprint for forests to be carbon sinks in a way that would, at the same time, protect waterways and reduce fire risk, this would be the way," Dr. Silva said at the experimental carbon forest along the McKenzie River in Thurston. "Riparian zones are particularly well suited to be those naturally planned solutions and scalable, regional solutions. So, we see this site as the first test site of something that could be scaled regionally."

Dr. Silva's son holds a dirt clod - a soil "aggregate" - that is the key to long-term carbon sequestrationDr. Silva and his team are particularly interested in how trees and shrubs transfer carbon to the soil. That's important to understand because trees eventually die and release carbon. Storing carbon in the soil is can prevent massive amounts of carbon from being released in forest fires.

"Within 20 cm of soil you could have a thousand years of history in terms of carbon accumulated overtime," he said. "So we really want to increase sequestration into the soil because that is the long-term sequestration."

Plants gather carbon through photosynthesis and store it in their roots. To understand the soil-carbon transfer, Dr. Silva examines the roots of his "baby forest" and how they develop connections to the fungal mycorrhizal network.

"One of the key questions here is: 'How can we maximize that ratio of transferring from plant communities to transferring to the soil through fungal symbionts and the rhizosphere for long-term storage?'" he explained. "And we think that the way to do that is to have a diverse landscape where we prioritize for certain [plant] communities - and depending on landscape position - to optimize that."

Through hosting and supporting Dr. Silva's research, EWEB is not only investing in the restoration of agricultural lands into riparian forests but will be able to ensure carbon offset projects throughout the McKenzie watershed and the Pacific Northwest have the best-available science to sequester carbon the fastest and the most securely.

"The EWEB-UO partnership is advancing our community's most vital resources today while developing methods and technologies to address climate change in the future," EWEB's Watershed Restoration Program Manager Karl Morgenstern said.


 

This #ClimateWeek, we've seen commitments from some of the world's largest emitters and biggest companies to become carbon neutral. As EWEB works towards carbon neutrality in its operations, propels our community's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and enhances our resiliency to climate change, we hope to help each one of our customer-constituents fulfill their potential energy needs.