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EWEB Announces Electrification Impact Study as Earth Day Celebrates 50th Anniversary Year

April 20, 2020

Electric transmission towers silhouetted against a sunset.

Eugene Water & Electric Board is exploring the impacts of widespread electrification on our community. In this study, EWEB will hypothesize various electrification scenarios and assess potential impacts to power supply, demand, local infrastructure, and community greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

It is fitting that EWEB announce the study during the 50th anniversary year of Earth Day, as the theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action, a topic that is directly related to electrification.

Electrification is a term for replacing direct fossil fuel use (e.g., natural gas, heating oil, gasoline) with electricity in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stabilizing Earth's temperature requires greenhouse gas emissions to reach net-zero by 2050.

Here in Eugene, where we are fortunate to have one of the cleanest power portfolios in the nation, electrifying end-use technologies presents both potential opportunities and challenges.

"Locally, our customers want to do their part to address the climate crisis, and they are looking to EWEB to enable a transformation to clean, sustainable energy use," said Frank Lawson, EWEB's General Manager. "However, without a thoughtful and intentional approach to electrification, we risk creating a diminished carbon benefit and unintended effects such as declining reliability of the grid, or price increases that make electricity unaffordable, particularly for low-income communities."

The impacts of electrification could be far-reaching, dramatically altering how much, when and where electricity is used. Locally and regionally, significant infrastructure investments will be needed to support changing demand. At the same time, the loss of capacity from coal plant retirements could affect the price and availability of electricity.

Despite these challenges, if done right, there are many opportunities to support our community's climate recovery goals through the smart electrification of transportation, space heating and water heating in both residential and commercial sectors. The study will help EWEB understand and prepare for various electrification futures, including the resources, technology, and infrastructure that will be needed to meet customers' changing energy needs, including fuel and electricity impacts.

The study aims to answer five questions:

    1. How might legislation and local ordinances impact the rate of electrification in Eugene?
    2. How could widespread electrification impact local electricity demand and consumption patterns?
    3. What impact would electrification have on EWEB's power system (generation, transmission, distribution, etc.)?
    4. What role might energy efficiency and demand-side flexibility play in mitigating challenging outcomes of mass electrification?
    5. What are the potential costs, benefits, and impacts of various electrification futures?

The study is part of EWEB's larger and ongoing Electricity Supply Planning (ESP) effort. Electricity Supply Planning includes a broad set of actions, such as evaluating power portfolio options, negotiating power purchase agreements, managing infrastructure, and developing customer products and services, all with the goal continuing to serve our community over the long-term with clean, affordable and reliable power.

EWEB management and Board of Commissioners determined in March 2020 that an electrification study will be the focus of the utility's near-term efforts due to broad interest in electrification from customers and the Board.  

"We have heard strong feedback from the Board and community that the most relevant and timely issue for EWEB relative to power resource planning should be electrification, specifically, how much electrification can EWEB handle, what kind, how fast, and what's the net carbon benefit," said Frank Lawson. "These are relevant and pressing questions given that most widely accepted solutions to the climate crisis involve aggressive electrification of energy end uses."

The electrification study will take priority over EWEB's previously scheduled Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) work, a process aimed at helping EWEB make decisions about long-term power generation resources. EWEB provides annual updates to the Board on the status of our existing IRP, with the last update on September 2019 showing that EWEB's portfolio remains adequate for meeting our resource needs for at least the next five years.

"EWEB has no immediate need for new power resources, so it makes sense to postpone the IRP for the time being," said Frank Lawson. "On the other hand, electrification of transportation and buildings can create opportunities and challenges for EWEB."

The electrification study will be completed in phases, with Phase 1 focusing on potential changes to demand and consumption patterns, generation needs, and environmental impacts from electrification of small vehicles, water and space heating. A first draft for Phase 1 review will be made available by mid-summer of this year, with the invitation for Board and public review and guidance. Phase 2 of the study will focus on infrastructure, costs and influence of energy efficiency and demand-side flexibility, and is targeted for completion in early 2021.

Throughout this work, EWEB will take steps to inform, educate and listen to customers.

"As we refocus our short-term efforts from an IRP to an electrification study, our goals for public engagement remain the same," said Frank Lawson. "We want to hear input that helps inform and guide utility decisions, and ensure that customers who choose to engage in the process have opportunities to do so."

We invite customers to sign-up to receive news and updates on EWEB's Electricity Supply Planning work.

With results of the electrification study in-hand, EWEB will be poised to direct our efforts back to Integrated Resource Planning. We expect to take up the next IRP in 2023.