Utility still faces big decision
Leaburg and Walterville share federal license
November 3, 2022 | View PDF
EUGENE: No matter what commissioners finally decide on the fate of the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s Leaburg hydroelectric plant it is still likely to cost anywhere from $50 to $100 million more than what they’d expected. During a four-hour work session last Tuesday EWEB’s staff told the board those projections would be part of an updated report they could expect to receive next month. The additional costs would cover anticipated upgrades to EWEB’s Walterville Canal likely to be required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Both facilities were part of the relicensing approved by FERC in 1997.
The realization that the two projects couldn’t be “decoupled” was also on the mind of board chairman John Brown. He was concerned about how a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change outflows from Cougar Reservoir might reduce how much river water would be allocated to salmon protection, lowering the amount that could be diverted into the power canals.
Brown questioned spending “a quarter of a billion dollars” on project upgrades if those improvements might be functional for five years or less.
Still before the board are four proposals. They include turning the Leaburg Canal into a channel to return stormwater to the main river, a partial return to power generation, fully restoring the project’s electrical output, or removing all parts of the project and returning the surrounding area to how it existed before it was built.
Questioned on how those choices could impact customer rates, Electric Generation manager Lisa Krentz estimated the partial or full decommissioning plans could cause them to go up from 10 to 10.5 percent. The full removal plan could cause a 14% rise she said, and bringing all the power generation back online was likely to cost an additional 15%, Krentz said.
Adding to the complexity of a decision is the general layout of Leaburg’s infrastructure. Krentz said it is very different from other hydroelectric projects that have been decommissioned in the past. Unlike those, Leaburg has a long canal and includes a lake that doesn’t function as a storage reservoir. “There’s no precedent out there for a project like ours,” she added.
It’s unlikely the EWEB board will make a decision at its December meeting. EWEB has received over 400 comments from the public in support of - as well as opposed to the various alternatives. When the staff asked board members to rank the four alternatives the results showed now was a clear winner. The stormwater conveyance choice had the most support, followed by a partial return to service. Next was the full return to service, followed by fully decommissioning the project.