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EWEB begins work rebuilding 10 substations in 10 years

May 15, 2023 Robyn Smith, EWEB Communications

Commissioners tour Currin construction site

The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) is ramping up to rebuild 10 substations in the next decade, revitalizing a key component of the utility’s electric grid and bringing the infrastructure to modern standards as part of a new Capital Improvement Plan. 

Substations serve as key nodes in the electric grid, taking high-voltage power from long-distance transmission lines and “stepping it down” to lower voltages that are safe for distribution to homes and businesses across Eugene. 

The rebuild effort has begun with the Currin Substation, which is located near Garden Way and Interstate 105. Crews are currently demolishing the 60-year-old substation. In the weeks ahead, workers will remove the remaining underground infrastructure including concrete and rebar from the old foundations from the site.  

After demolition is complete, workers will build the substation’s new foundations, then install new infrastructure that goes below ground level. Finally, crews will install new electrical equipment, most likely in mid to late summer. 

“Currin has served our community well for more than 60 years. It’s amazing how the investments of EWEB customers in the 1960s and 1970s still serve us today,” said Philip Peterson, EWEB systems engineer, and the lead engineer on the project. “But in the last few years, especially, we’ve seen a noticeable uptick in equipment failures at the substation. It’s time for us to rebuild and reinvest for the benefit of future generations, while also making sure our equipment meets modern standards.” 

Currin functions as the “Grand Central Station” of EWEB’s electrical grid. Power from multiple long-distance transmission lines, including from the Bonneville Power Administration’s lines and PacifiCorp’s transmission lines – flows through the substation. It also serves as a connection hub to EWEB’s Hayden Bridge Water Treatment Plant, customers in the McKenzie River Valley and Eugene’s downtown electrical network. Because of these critical interconnections, EWEB chose to replace Currin first among the 10 planned substation rebuilds. 

Most of EWEB’s substations were built during the 1970s, when the population of Eugene was rapidly growing. 

Despite the age of some of EWEB’s equipment, the power EWEB supplies is 99.97% reliable, based on 2022 metrics for outage occurrences and length of outages. That level of electric reliability requires consistent investment and maintenance in the whole grid. The grid encompasses everything from power plants to distribution and transmission lines, from substations serving around 2,000 to 6,000 homes to transformers, which typically serve four to six houses, but can serve a whole apartment building, depending on the size. 

“Rebuilding Currin will help ensure that EWEB can continue delivering reliable electricity to our customers,” said Tyler Nice, EWEB electric operations manager. “Upgrades to the grid are vital as demand for electricity rises due to customers switching to electric vehicles, electric heat pumps, electric stoves and electric water heaters in an effort to reduce community-wide carbon emissions.” 

The rebuilt Currin substation will contribute to improved future reliability by minimizing the frequency of outages resulting from equipment failure or routine maintenance. The substation’s new design also meets modern earthquake standards for infrastructure to better withstand the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. The foundations will be larger and deeper so that equipment mounted on top of them won’t overturn or slide during an earthquake. 

The $14.8 million project is scheduled to finish in spring 2024. Another nine substations will follow in the next decade, as outlined in EWEB’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan for major infrastructure investments to rehabilitate and replace aging infrastructure. EWEB forecasts that rebuilding the 10 substations will cost about $125 million.  

The Capital Improvement Plan is based on asset management, data, and risk-based decisions, and prioritizes projects into three main categories: risk-based, compulsory, and strategic. These categories will help guide the electric division’s work over the next 10 years. This plan will usher in a new era of EWEB’s electric grid, ensuring reliable power for Eugene’s growing community for the next half a century and beyond. 

“EWEB is always searching for the balance between the obligations we have to serve customers today and in the future. The objectives of this plan, spread over the next 10 years, is a great example of our service to both,” Nice said. “A rebuilt substation will last over 50 years into the future, so it is a job worth doing right. That’s why we are focusing on hiring the right people, and ramping up our stock so that over the next couple years these station rebuilds can roll out smoothly with minimal impact to customers.”  

More information on EWEB’s electric reliability and resiliency projects can be found at eweb.org/electricreliability.