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Staff gave out about 300 emergency water containers to enthusiastic community members eager to learn more about the water station.Find Out More
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EWEB is likely to implement similar, formalized “demand response” programs in the future.Find Out More
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Ramping up on electric infrastructure investments
March 16, 2023 • Robyn Smith, EWEB Communications
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.
At its core, EWEB is a delivery service. We deliver life-sustaining commodities – power and water – at a rate and quality our customers trust and depend on. It’s our job to deliver these essential products to homes and businesses, 24/7, 365-days a year. We provide reliable service by balancing product supply and demand, minimizing delivery disruption, applying sustainable practices, and upholding cost-effective rates while simultaneously improving distribution infrastructure to better serve our customers.
So, how will we tackle aging infrastructure, plan for future risks, and adapt to the new technologies and opportunities that lie ahead? How can we ensure safe and reliable delivery of power for generations to come? By planning for it. For the past few years, EWEB has been crafting a 10-year Capital Improvement Plan for major infrastructure investments to rehabilitate, replace, and install new infrastructure.
“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,” said Frank Lawson, EWEB General Manager.
We’re partnering with you on a reliable future
The electric improvement plan, beginning this year, has a 10-year horizon and sunsets in 2032. The budget, reviewed annually by EWEB’s Board of Commissioners, is the guiding force for the projects scheduled over the next decade that will modernize equipment, increase system resiliency, and maintain reliability. To accomplish this plan, funding will be pulled from multiple buckets, including customer rates, bonds, and grants, such as federally funded infrastructure bills.
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, near-term supply chain shortages, as well as the need to upgrade aging infrastructure, requires 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.
EWEB’s resiliency-packed plan is ready for launch
So, how are we deciding which infrastructure needs attention and investment? Based on asset management, data, and risk-based decisions, we’ve prioritized 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. Projects can also be identified by five infrastructure types: substation rebuilds, the downtown network, distribution and transmission lines, and Smart Meter installation.
Risk-based projects are based on the age and condition of equipment. These types of projects make up 70% of the work in the plan. EWEB’s plan to rebuild 10 substations in 10 years is an example of risk-based work. The order in which these projects are completed depends on the equipment’s expected end of life, to avoid running the equipment to the point of failure which may lead to customer outages. Risk-Based work provides more leniency in project selection and timing and is rooted in avoiding a future failure due to age or condition.
“With so much equipment in the system, we cannot fix it all at once and must make choices every year for what comes next. Underground electric cable replacement is an example,” said Tyler Nice, EWEB electric operations manager. “EWEB’s system has millions of miles of underground cable which ranges from over 50 years old to freshly installed. We are proactively replacing the oldest and most system critical cable first and investing around $1 million per year to do so.”
Compulsory projects are driven by the need to comply with regulations, storm and outage response, and the utility’s obligation to serve new connections to customers seeking power. An example of compulsory work on the electric system is our Public Utility Commission (PUC) required maintenance. We annually inspect and maintain at least 10% of our systems lines, poles, and equipment, so that over a 10-year period, we have inspected and addressed the entire system, maintaining reliability and safety. This is a committed plan audited by the PUC on a specific schedule that drives the work.
Strategic projects help us achieve long-term goals such as increasing load capacity, flexibility, and opportunity, while mitigating risk. The installation of electric Smart Meters, which can detect when your power is out and automatically report the outage back to us, is an example of a strategic project. Not only do Smart Meters offer safe and secure remote meter readings, but they also help us respond faster to restore power after an outage and can help prevent future outages by giving our staff better insight into the performance and health of the electrical system.
“An example of a large-scale strategic project is how EWEB continues to increase seismic resiliency of key electrical components to reduce damage that will occur during the Subduction Zone earthquake expected in the pacific northwest,” said Nice.
2023 is just the beginning for major infrastructure investments to rehabilitate, replace and install new infrastructure. This year, we have some long-term projects beginning, short-term projects in the queue, and projects reaching completion from work started in previous years. At the same time, this year will hold a lot of planning, design, and supply orders for the electric division. In February, crews began deconstruction of Currin, the first substation scheduled for a rebuild, after a year of prep work.
“The Currin Substation rebuild demonstrates all that occurs before these projects begin,” said Nice. “We have the project scope dialed in, budget allotted, parts and materials ordered, design completed, contractor on-site and project timeline in place – now we’re ready to execute.”
Infrastructure investment projects you’ll hear more about in 2023
Currin Substation Rebuild
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 transmission lines owned by the Bonneville Power Administration and PacifiCorp to EWEB’s grid, and it connects transmission lines up to the Hayden Bridge filtration plant and to Eugene’s downtown electrical network. But, “Grand Central” is about to get a big makeover.
For the past year, EWEB’s electric division has been preparing to completely rebuild Currin substation. Quite simply, it’s reached the end of its useful life.
“We’ve discovered more and more failures in this substation over the years and the overall design of the station does not meet modern expectations,” said Philip Peterson, EWEB systems engineer.
Since the early 2000s, upgrades to substation equipment have made operation of the 60-year-old station difficult as old and new equipment are unable to work together. Rebuilding the Currin substation will increase load capacity to ensure we meet future needs and improve reliability by avoiding outages due to equipment failure or routine maintenance.
“While Currin is decommissioned, power will continue to flow from other substations that can handle the load until Currin is reconstructed, most likely by spring of 2024,” said Peterson, “this is possible thanks to the redundancy of infrastructure built into EWEB’s grid.”
We’re in the process of installing a timelapse camera at the construction site that way customers can follow along on this momentous infrastructure rebuild.
Downtown Vault Network
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 on 7th street near the Hult Center 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 Tom Ossowski, EWEB systems engineer, “this type of installation minimizes disruption to customers and traffic while reducing construction time and maintaining crew safety.”
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,” said Nice.
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 as part of the infrastructure investment plan.
Upriver transmission line project
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.
Underground Cable Replacement and Installation
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.
Storm Hardening Mitigation Project
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.
Every day, EWEB is here for our customers, delivering the power for daily activities like accessing the internet, brewing a pot of coffee, and washing clothes. We deliver life-sustaining commodities to maintain our community’s vitality in this modern world.
We’ve been keeping the lights on for over 100 years and we’ll continue to uphold the highest standard of service for our customers today, and in the future, by making sure we have the infrastructure in place to provide safe, reliable, and sustainable power for generations to come.
Learn more about EWEB’s electric infrastructure investments at eweb.org/electricreliability.