City Club of Eugene: Finding True North on EWEB's Compass—EWEB's Present & Future

Recorded on: February 17, 2017

Air Date: February 20, 2017

Speaker: Frank Lawson, General Manager, Eugene Water & Electric Board

Coordinator:  Sandra Bishop

What happens at EWEB affects all residents of Eugene and customers living up the McKenzie River. General Manager Frank Lawson will give an update on what is happening at EWEB these days. He will talk about what EWEB is doing to maintain resiliency in the face of increasingly more powerful and destruction storms, give us progress reports on the riverfront site, Carmen Smith relicensing, capital planning projects and fill us in on other challenges facing EWEB these days such as the increased cost of employee health care and PERS liability, and development of a second drinking water source.

The EWEB headquarters building sits on prime riverfront land in downtown Eugene. Operations and heavy equipment have been moved to a second EWEB site in the Bethel neighborhood, the Roosevelt Operations Center (ROC), built in 2010. One of the questions GM Frank Lawson will give us an update on is whether or not EWEB headquarters is going or staying on the riverfront.

GM Lawson will also discuss recent storms and the challenge for local utilities to keep the lights on and the water flowing. Unlike other private businesses that may choose to shut down during a major storm, EWEB services are essential. There is no choice for EWEB officials but to take whatever action and expense is required to maintain and restore services during and after storms.

During one storm in the winter of 2016 more than 25,000 EWEB customers were without electric power. Some households were without power for 8 days before crews could repair, replace and get the infrastructure back online. In 2006 a major flood came close to shutting down the water intake plant on the McKenzie River, and jammed the rollgates on the McKenzie River dams. Around the same year, a 200 mile-per-hour jet-stream wind touched down to earth on River Road near Santa Clara area and took down very large fir trees among houses in the neighborhood. EWEB quickly restored power.

Biographical Information

Lawson was hired from a field of 50 finalists as General Manager of EWEB in May of 2016. He had been employed at EWEB as Electric Systems Engineering Supervisor since 2010. His commitment to the local community and his ability to communicate with employees and utility management staff of EWEB were major factors when the EWEB of Commissioners hired Lawson. A licensed engineer, he worked for 8 years as an electrical engineering manager for Jen-Weld, a local building products manufacturer. He holds a bachelor’s degree from OSU in electrical and computer engineering (1983), and a Master’s degree from NW Christian University in business administration (2015).

Lawson’s challenges at EWEB include balancing conservation with the market-driven changes in electricity prices, managing more than 500 employees, reporting to a five member elected Board, and keeping major EWEB projects such as the relicensing of Carmin Smith dam and hydro projects within budget.

copyright, KLCC 2017