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EWEB’s Largest Power Supplier Visits Eugene to Discuss Costs, Climate and Changing Energy Needs

April 21, 2020

Bonneville Dam

Here in Eugene, we are fortunate to have one of the cleanest power portfolios in the nation, with almost no electricity sourced from fossil fuels. While around 20 percent of Eugene's power comes from community-owned or co-owned projects, the majority of EWEB's power is delivered through Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the federal Columbia River Power System.

For decades, we have relied on these clean, reliable power resources to serve our community's electricity needs. But in the coming decade, many of our power supply contracts are set to expire, including our largest contract with BPA.  

While negotiations for a new contract won't begin in earnest for a few years, EWEB and Bonneville are already laying the groundwork for future conversations about new product opportunities. In early March 2020, BPA administrator Elliot Mainzer visited EWEB as part of his outreach to utilities that rely on power generated by Federal resources, including the Columbia River Power System.  

In Mr. Mainzer's presentation to EWEB's Board of Commissioners, he outlined key elements of a recently published five -year strategic plan that calls for reducing costs and debt, modernizing systems and operating key assets more efficiently and developing new products to meet the region's changing energy needs.  

"In developing our strategic plan, we not only looked at our competitiveness, we looked at the market," Mainzer told the EWEB Board. "We asked, what's going to be the modern version of the Bonneville Power Administration? How can we be an agile, responsive and competitively-priced utility, so that when we get into the next decade and start negotiating long-term contracts, we can remain that provider of choice for our public power customers?"  

As Mainzer noted in his presentation, there's a lot of commonality between EWEB and BPA-many of the issues that EWEB is facing here locally, Bonneville is also addressing at a regional scale.  This includes investments to protect listed fish species, a push toward decarbonization, concerns about resource adequacy as western coal plants retire, and a need to modernize systems and aging infrastructure. These issues are likely to play a significant role in future contract negotiations.  

"When we look at updating EWEB's contract with BPA and other aspects of our power portfolio, we will be operating in the context of a changing climate, new technology, developing markets and evolving customer expectations," said EWEB General Manager Frank Lawson. "This dynamic landscape will create new challenges and opportunities related to power resources, electric infrastructure, and the products and services available to our customers."  

Among those products and services will be different electricity service plans, said Lawson.  

"I expect that in a few years, EWEB will offer several energy product choices to our customers with different attributes such as carbon content and price, and that certainly implicates our contract with BPA." 

Elliot Mainzer said Bonneville is preparing for the next round of contracts by reaching out to its customers across the region to better understand the kinds power products those utilities want to make available to their retail customers. 

"EWEB is already well ahead of the curve, thinking about what those customer choices might look like in the future—the carbon content, price structure, flexibility, etc.," said Mainzer. "As EWEB advances these concepts and is being very proactive about what the community here may be looking for, we [BPA] will go back to the drawing board and ask, what are the things that we can do to supplement that and keep EWEB's cost of delivery as affordable as possible." 

Bonneville Power Administration, a nonprofit federal power marketing administration, provides about 28 percent of the electric power used in the Northwest. BPA markets wholesale power from 31 federal hydroelectric projects in the Northwest, one nonfederal nuclear plant and several small nonfederal power plants. BPA also operates and maintains about three-fourths of the high-voltage transmission in its service territory, which includes Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana and small parts of eastern Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.  

You can listen to Mr. Mainzer's full presentation to the EWEB Board of Commissioners here and find more Board meeting agendas and audio recordings on our website