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Green power lunch.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

The Eugene Water & Electric Board invited its biggest customers to lunch Tuesday to talk about one of the biggest issues on the horizon: the consequences of global warming on local snowpacks, stream flows and hydropower consumption.

The "Climate for Change" panel discussion was the centerpiece of what's become a 20-year tradition at EWEB - inviting the utility's biggest electrical consumers to get together to consider the related goals of conserving energy and helping the bottom line.

Larry Sanderson, environmental manager at Trus Joist, was among 50 or so guests who gathered at EWEB offices for a catered meal of salmon and vegetables. Sanderson said he appreciates hearing EWEB's expertise on energy issues, and said his company has successfully found ways to reduce its power consumption.

"We still use a lot of electricity, but not as much as before," he said.

Five panelists said there is much to be done - but only so much that can be done - to address the emerging reality of global warming.

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy said she has great confidence in people's ability to make the life changes necessary to curb global warming. Locally, those steps can include promoting alternative modes of transportation and pushing for better automotive fuel technology, she said.

But Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service, said climate change is too great a phenomenon to reverse entirely.

"What's much more likely is we're going to have to adapt to a warmer climate," he said. "We're going to be learning how to adapt and respond to the problem, and there's going to be a lot of surprises."

Grant said water shortages elsewhere in the country could directly affect the local region, either in terms of population growth or greater pressures to divert some of its water.

"Either water will come to people, or people will come to the water," he said. "I predict that water will bethemost valuable product from the Northwest, by far."

Steve Newcomb, EWEB's environmental manager, said global warming could touch local ratepayers in unanticipated ways: Warmer summers, for example, can translate into higher electric bills because of an increased use of air conditioners.

EWEB Commissioner Ron Farmer said global warming won't make life unlivable, but it's still important "to do everything we can to slow it down."

He said EWEB needs to shift its conservation focus from residential to commercial customers, in order to maximize the potential environmental benefits.

Alan Meyer, director of energy management for Weyerhaeuser, said the forest product giant has already taken steps in that direction - pledging, for example, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent between 2000 and 2020. The company is working with Chevron to create a new generation of biofuels, and is also looking at producing wood pellets, he said.

In opening remarks, EWEB General Manager Randy Berggren said people used to poke fun at EWEB for its aggressive efforts to promote conservation.

"But I'm not hearing as many jokes as I used to," he said. "Instead, I'm getting a lot more questions about what we do and how we do it."

EWEB recently adopted a climate change policy aimed at reducing the release of greenhouse gases.

But because EWEB relies so much on hydropower - as opposed to carbon-producing technologies such as coal burning - the opportunities to curb emissions are limited, Berggren said.

EWEB is adding renewable energy to its portfolio at a rate of 1 percent of electric revenues each year, he said.

Each megawatt-hour of renewable energy generation offsets about 1,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

Earlier this year, EWEB introduced a Greenpower program that invites customers to buy renewable energy credits. Already, EWEB has subscribed about 1,000 customers - in addition to another 1,700 customers already enrolled in the utility's Windpower program. Combined, the programs have generated $250,000 this year that goes to a reserve account dedicated to future investments in renewable energy, Berggren said.

EWEB spokesman John Mitchell said the utility first invited its largest customers for a group gathering in 1988, the year EWEB moved into its current riverfront headquarters.

While topics have varied over the years, conservation has always been a central theme, he said. "Because they are so large, the opportunities to save are large," he said.

EWEB's top 100 customers each spend at least $90,000 a year on electricity, and combined pay about $43 million annually - roughly 30 percent of all electric revenues.

In all, EWEB has about 6,000 commercial customers and 80,000 residential customers.

EWEB'S BIGGEST CUSTOMERS

Based on annual electric billings

1. Weyerhaeuser Co.

2. Hynix

3. University of Oregon

4. Flakeboard Ltd.

5. City of Eugene

6. PeaceHealth

7. Eugene School District

8. Lane County

9. Northwest Hardwoods

10. Trus Joist
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Title Annotation:Environment; Community leaders attend an EWEB panel to address energy goals
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 10, 2007
Words:797
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