EWEB Commissioners to consider decommissioning Leaburg Hydroelectric Project

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Leaburg Canal Update – December 6, 2022

Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) General Manager Frank Lawson recommends the Board of Commissioners should vote to “permanently discontinue electricity generation at the Leaburg Hydroelectric Project.” 

Lawson’s recommendation represents the collective expertise of EWEB staff and consultants, following two years of in-depth analyses and an extensive public outreach process. 

Internal erosion and seismically vulnerable soils among portions of the Leaburg Canal forced EWEB to shut down the hydroelectric project in 2018 and evaluate whether heavy investments into repairing the canal would be cost-effective, or if it is time for EWEB to decommission the 90-year-old project and cease generation. 

The Leaburg project has historically generated about 4% of Eugene’s electricity
needs. If EWEB were to continue generating, staff calculated the project would
produce electricity at least three times more expensive than other carbon-free
options.  

EWEB will petition the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which already
provides EWEB with about 80% of its energy, to replace the energy that would be
lost by decommissioning Leaburg. EWEB will ask BPA to provide that additional energy at the low-cost, Tier 1 rate reserved for public power utilities across the
region.  

In addition to economic considerations, Lawson points to the benefits that
decommissioning Leaburg would yield to McKenzie River water quality and
fisheries, as well as alignment with the utility’s core mission and customer-owner
priorities to reduce costs.  

“Permanently discontinuing electricity generation at the Leaburg Hydroelectric
Project will result in the removal of the dam, restoring the McKenzie River to
unobstructed flow and eliminating the human-made Leaburg Lake behind the
dam,”
Lawson writes. “EWEB’s mission does not directly prioritize creating or
managing recreational facilities, transportation assets, or other non-electricity or
drinking water activities,” Lawson states.  

To maintain access to the south side of the river, Lawson
recommends developing alternative access via Goodpasture Bridge.  

All of the alternatives EWEB has studied would require capital investments
tallying more than $150 million and would result in substantial rate increases
over time. The recommended direction is the lowest-cost alternative. EWEB
forecasts that this alternative might require the utility to raise electricity rates by
9-10% between 2023 and 2040.    

“As a publicly owned utility, it’s our responsibility to make the best decision for
our customer-owners while also being good stewards of the McKenzie River,”
said Generation Manager Lisa Krentz. “This has been a difficult decision that
includes significant trade-offs and impacts to our community. We look forward
to continuing to work with our customers and upriver neighbors as we plan for
the next steps of this project.” 

Next steps:Lawson and staff will present their recommendation to Commissioners at today’s (Dec. 6) Board Meeting. All community members are invited to
attend at the EWEB Roosevelt Operations Center, 4200 Roosevelt Blvd. at 5:45 p.m.

You can view the live stream at https://tinyurl.com/EWEB-Board-Meeting-12-06-22.
The Board will determine a future date to vote on a Record of Decision to
endorse or decline the proposal, which will set in motion an implementation and
action plan towards decommissioning.If approved, EWEB anticipates several
years of planning and settlement negotiations prior to construction commencing likely in the 2030s.Work on near-term risk reduction measure projects will start as soon as next year but the potential work to remove the dam and lake will likely not begin for 10 years or more.  

Read the General Manager’s Recommendation and the supplemental materials of the Triple Bottom Line Assessment: Goal #3(a): General Manager’s Recommendation – Leaburg Canal TBL & Strategic Assessment Final Findings
Frequently Asked Questions about the Implications of Decommissioning Leaburg

1. What does this recommendation mean for the Leaburg Project?a. Dam Removal:
This direction includes removing the Leaburg Dam, restoring the human-made
Leaburg Lake to an unobstructed river, and building a road to
connect properties that have used the dam as a bridge to the Goodpasture Bridge a few miles upstream.b. Canal Repairs: EWEB would reinforce the Leaburg
Canal to act as a stormwater conveyance facility, taking the tributary creeks that
flow into the canal back to the McKenzie River. EWEB would modify sections of
the canal to reconnect certain creeks directly to the river.

2. Without the dam, will flooding be an issue?
a. The Leaburg Dam is a run-of-the-river facility, meaning it doesn’t play a role in reducing the impact of
floods. The dam serves to direct water into the canal, rather than impounding
water to store it for hydropower generation. When in operation, the dam would
divert only a maximum of 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water into the
canal and the rest of the McKenzie River would flow through the dam’s rollgates. Because the Leaburg Project is run-of-the-river, its generation potential is
directly influenced by water availability – a further risk consideration as climate change threatens to reduce summer flows and therefore would likely reduce the amount of energy the project could produce.

3. When will construction begin?
a. If approved, we anticipate several years of planning and settlement
negotiations prior to any construction related to decommissioning. Major decommissioning work is not anticipated to commence until the beginning of the
2030s, at the earliest. Work on near-term risk reduction measure projects will
start as soon as next year (i.e. canal plugs for directing stormwater and an outfall gate at Johnson Creek), but the work to remove the dam and lake will likely not
begin for 10 years or more.

4. How will this decision impact customer electricity rates?a. We
estimate the costs to carry out this decision would require EWEB to raise electric rates by 9-10% between 2023 and 2040.

5. What about Irrigators and properties with water access? a. EWEB
will work to mitigate water rights and water access issues where legally obligated and facilitate water access where possible, specifically for fish hatcheries.

6. How did EWEB communicate with the public about this decision?a. We’ve held a dozen meetings with the Eugene and upriver communities this year and have presented at community meetings like the Springfield Lions, the Santa Clara Neighborhood Association, and the Eugene Chamber of Commerce. We’ve also reached out to 23 other neighborhood associations, worked with local media outlets to cover the project, and communicated the project to all customers on
the September bill message. We received over 420 responses to a public
comment form that was open from June through October, and have compiled
thousands of comments as part of assessing the social impacts of the Triple
Bottom Line Assessment.
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