From the 1950s to the 1970s, Eugene was growing fast as new residents and industries moved to the area. To keep up with growing demand for electricity, EWEB went through a building boom of electric infrastructure. The equipment installed during that time makes up most of the equipment in EWEB’s electrical grid today, but that infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life and no longer meets modern systematic expectations.
To maintain the reliability customers have come to know and trust, EWEB must address an aging infrastructure bubble.
Despite the age of our equipment, the power we supply is 99.97% reliable, based on 2022 metrics for outage occurrences and length of outages. That level of electric reliability is due to the infrastructure that delivers it and the staff who maintain it. From power plants to distribution and transmission lines, substations to transformers — utility infrastructure is a complex system that requires investment and maintenance to provide constant, reliable power.
EWEB's 10-year Capital Improvement Plan for major infrastructure investments to rehabilitate, replace, and install new infrastructure will ensure we meet the current and future needs of our community, while maintaining reliable service. Some of the electric infrastructure projects include:
To ensure a reliable tomorrow, we need to put in the work today, and the rates you pay as an EWEB customer help us do just that. In 2022, for the first time in five years, EWEB’s utility rates increased. Rising costs from inflation and near-term supply chain shortages as well as the need to upgrade aging infrastructure, require an increase in the fees we charge for water and electric services. A percentage of your rates will help fund a new era of distribution infrastructure, providing reliable power for customers for the next half a century and beyond.
Most EWEB substations were built in the 1970s during a building boom that expanded EWEB service territory, putting many of our transformers over 40 years of age, even a few reaching 70 years old.
EWEB plans to address this aging bubble of infrastructure with 10 major substation rebuilds in the next 10 years that will increase load capacity to ensure we meet future needs and improve reliability by avoiding outages due to equipment failure. We're beginning this year with the rebuild of Currin Substation.
The Currin substation near Garden Way and Interstate 105, was constructed in 1962 and is considered the “Grand Central Station” of EWEB’s electrical grid. A lot of power flows through this station. It feeds power from BPA and Pacific Corp. transmission lines to EWEB’s grid, connects power upriver to the Hayden Bridge filtration plant and to Eugene’s downtown electrical network. But, “Grand Central” is about to get a big makeover.
Currin is just the first of several substations scheduled for a rebuild over the next ten years as part of EWEB’s major infrastructure investments through our Capital Improvement Plan for rehabilitating, replacing, and installing new infrastructure.
Even in historically wet, mild Oregon, summers are getting hotter and drier, with longer wildfire seasons. The overall risk of wildfires is growing. We are increasing our efforts to maintain and operate our electrical lines and equipment to minimize wildfire risk and keep our customers and community safe.
In the summer of 2022, EWEB’s Board of Commissioners approved the utility’s first Wildfire Mitigation Plan. The plan is designed to protect public safety, reduce risk to utility customers and promote electrical system resilience to wildfire damage.Learn more
Have you ever wondered, what’s underground in downtown Eugene? While we can’t speak for everything that’s down below, we can tell you a little bit about EWEB’s intricate downtown electrical network connected by a series of vaults beneath the city’s downtown streets.
Underground electric cables deliver power to downtown Eugene businesses and homes. A cable vault is typically 8 feet by 12 feet across and 9 feet high, and is made of concrete, rebar, and steel I-beams. The vaults allow access to the underground cable system for repairs and routine maintenance, and they’re typically beneath the road, at every intersection and mid-block in downtown’s core.
In February, crews replaced a corroded, aging vault with an innovative, new Voltek vault – built inside of the existing structure. The Voltek vault replacement is an unprecedented installation for EWEB.
“We’re able to install the new vault while the cables are still energized,” said Ossowski, “this type of installation minimizes disruption to customers and traffic while reducing construction time.”
Traditional vault replacement would require de-energizing power supply and road excavation, but EWEB was able to avoid those constraints with the Voltek installation. This method is also a fraction of the cost of a traditional vault replacement due to the quicker installation.
This new infrastructure will provide reliable and safe access to the underground cable network for the next 50 years and beyond. This vault replacement is the first of three planned for completion this year in our downtown network.
In 2021, EWEB received over $1.5 million through a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for a project to mitigate the risk of future damage from severe ice and snowstorms to some high-risk portions of our electric distribution system. Planning and design for the project is finishing up and execution may begin as early as this year. The storm hardening will focus on a residential neighborhood with dense tree cover from Willamette Street near Coachman Drive to Larch Street and Manzanita Street. This service area frequently experiences power outages from winter storms, including significant damage from the 2016 ice storm.
The funding will support two types of mitigation measures. It will reframe and rewire the overhead lines to a slim-line format that substantially reduces the likelihood of tree limbs falling on lines. And it will underground segments of the electric distribution system that are currently overhead.
EWEB’s service territory has over 3 million circuit feet (a three-conductor circuit means each linear foot of circuit has three circuit feet) of underground electric cable. and the layout of installation mirrors that of Eugene’s development from 1962 to present. Eugene’s entire downtown network is underground and most new building developments are designed for underground cable connections. Since last year, our crews have been working on replacing aging underground feeder cables across the distribution grid. The priority for replacement is calculated by the age of the cable, risk of failure, and customer impact.
We’re also investing in underground service lines wherever practical for customers rebuilding from the Holiday Farm Fire in the McKenzie Valley. We encourage customers who are interested in the program to contact EWEB as soon as possible.
Transmission lines carry bulk, high-voltage power from power generation stations far from Eugene to substation transformers, which change, or “step down” the high voltage power to levels that can be safely distributed to homes and businesses.
This summer, crews will be taking a closer look at a transmission line that requires attention to mitigate potential future risk. This line runs from a power generation station at the International Paper Company in Springfield and connects upriver to the Thurston and Walterville substations. This line crosses the McKenzie River and has infrastructure on an island in the river. Plans are underway to redesign the layout of this transmission line to mitigate potential risks that could occur due to the equipment’s proximity to water and risk of flooding.
Electronics can be damaged by momentary high voltage, often called a surge or spike. Protecting your electronics is as simple as choosing a quality surge protector.
We regularly receive reports of power outages that are actually a tripped breaker on the customer's circuit panel. Checking your circuit panel before reporting an outage can save you hassle and money.