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New Carbon Offsets Programs Will Help Community Collaborate on Climate Solutions

November 10, 2021

EWEB Business Line Manager Anna Wade points out trees growing at the High Banks experimental carbon forest

Slowing down the effects of climate change is all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions that come from power generation, transportation, energy use in buildings, and waste. EWEB is committed to doing our part, which includes meeting our community's electricity needs with affordable, low-carbon sources.

Fortunately, the abundant rivers and legacy hydropower projects of the Pacific Northwest help EWEB to maintain an electricity portfolio that is 90% carbon-free.

Eugene's electricity is 90% carbon-free

To further support community-wide carbon reductions, EWEB's rebate and loan programs help customers cut their energy use and transition from gas to clean, electric-powered vehicles. And our GreenPower program allows customers to support renewable energy projects by voluntarily paying an extra penny per-kilowatt-hour of consumption. GreenPower subscribers fund local solar power installations and sponsor grants to help local schools, non-profits and public agencies with projects aimed at creating a better, clean environment.

Our Greenpower program has awarded more than $1 million to local renewable energy and GHG reduction projects. Most recently, EWEB awarded $50,000 grants to Eugene Mission for installation of a solar energy system and to Friends of Trees to to fund a large-scale volunteer tree planting event in west Eugene.

In the next year, EWEB will build on GreenPower with a series of new environmental programs that help our customers offset their carbon footprint. EWEB Business Line Manager Anna Wade is excited to make these available soon - and has some updates to share about what's coming up.

Q: What inspires you to work on EWEB's upcoming environmental programs?

A: The climate is in crisis! I do my part with the easy stuff like shopping local, bike commuting, earth conscious consumerism, and Community Supported Agriculture, but it just doesn't feel like enough. Being able to develop and offer new programs in support of the environment enables me to pull my weight and invite EWEB customers to do the same! And I love the opportunity to focus on the kinds of initiatives that our customers are passionate about. Environmental stewardship is a shared core value for EWEB and our community.

Q: What are some of the programs you're developing for EWEB customers?

A: Over the next year two years, EWEB will be expanding options for voluntary, customer-facing programs. Each of these will be iterative and responsive to our customers' priorities as expressed through participation and engagement with the utility. Initial roll-out will include three new options:

  1. Bulk purchases of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC),
  2. Carbon offsets,
  3. and a carbon forestry project in the McKenzie watershed.

The new REC and Carbon Offset programs create more options for customers to address their own carbon footprint and support renewable energy. And customers looking to support water source protection and watershed stewardship will have something more fitting to their values than the investment in local solar installations which are the hallmark of EWEB's GreenPower program. Over time, we will expand on these programs and add additional options for voluntary direct action to reduce energy use during periods of high demand when power market prices are elevated and the carbon intensity of EWEB's power resources are highest.

Q: Why is EWEB interested in carbon offsets?

A: The GreenPower program enables customers to invest in local solar installations, non-profits, schools and to have RECs retired on their behalf. But this may not be the best fit for larger energy consumers, especially those that don't qualify for the programs that GreenPower funds. Additionally, RECs are not an effective way to offset carbon beyond a customers' energy consumption. Purchasing carbon offsets can address other aspects of carbon footprints such as transportation, food consumption, or waste. Expanding options for both will allow EWEB customers to invest in carbon mitigation in a way that makes the most sense for them individually.

Dr. Lucas Silva and his son, Kayo, show off some soil aggregates (dirt clods) that represent carbon sequestered into the soil.

Q: Tell us more about the collaboration between EWEB and UO relating to carbon forestry.

A: EWEB is very interested in the future of carbon forestry as a means to go beyond carbon reduction and develop the science and understanding of how to maximize carbon drawdown in the atmosphere. Given that EWEB is both an Electric and Water utility, we are particularly excited about the dual benefits of watershed stewardship and source protection that these projects can offer. The collaboration with the University of Oregon Soil, Plant, and Atmosphere Lab accomplishes all of this, but it's also an investment in human capital. UO graduate students working on this project will help design the future of carbon sequestration techniques.

EWEB is really excited about this project, and we think our customers will be too! By inviting our customers to voluntarily contribute to this effort, we can stretch the available dollars to cover more areas throughout the watershed. Customers can take pride in knowing that they are contributing to protecting our beautiful McKenzie River with strategic plantings that will enhance natural habitats, sequester carbon, and develop best practices for carbon forestry. In the future, we hope to make these locally-generated carbon offsets available for purchase under the carbon offset program.

Q: That will be great to be able to invest in carbon offsets on projects that benefit our community and local environment! To make our energy consumption less carbon-intensive, we often remind our customers about "peak" electricity demand, and encourage them to reduce their energy use during peak. Why is understanding peak electricity demand so important?

A: For decades, EWEB has partnered with our customers to invest in energy efficiency. As we all know, the cleanest energy is that which is never used in the first place! But as the industry changes and more and more energy is produced from intermittent renewable sources, "When Matters," even more than how much we use overall. For example, peak demand is highest in our area before and after work, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. When people are home, showering, preparing meals, using their appliances, etc., our interconnected grid must sometimes burn greenhouse gasses to generate enough electricity to meet demand. That's why it's important to understand peak demand and adjust our habits accordingly, like running the dishwasher or clothes drier during off-peak hours. 

Especially as EWEB rolls out new programs in support of Electric Vehicles and charging infrastructure, it will be important that we work together to manage the transition through charging those EVs overnight when energy is more abundant, cheaper and with a lower carbon intensity.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with these new energy efficiency and carbon offset programs?

A: Providing access to these products is certainly important so that we can increase investment in renewable energy and natural climate solutions. But I think it's equally important that we learn and grow together as these markets begin to mature and become more a part of the civic landscape. The climate crisis is a pressing issue, but I think we struggle as a society to work collaboratively on solutions. Building a shared knowledge base is an important first step in the right direction.

Q: When can people expect these programs to be available, and how can they sign up?

A: In the coming months we will be sharing more about the pricing and other particulars of these programs. We are tentatively targeting Earth Day 2022 for our initial program roll out. Stay tuned!