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Eugene Working On Compromise With Northwest Natural Gas On New Franchise Agreement

City of Eugene


Eugene City Councilors took a step toward a compromise with Northwest Natural Gas on their new right of way franchise agreement, Wednesday. A stalemate over carbon reduction goals led to the expiration of a previous agreement on May 11.


City Manager Sarah Medary proposeda new approach during the June 16 City Council Work Session. One that was created after talking with NWNG in the time since a Feb. 8 council meeting where councilors chose not to renew a previous agreement. 


Medary said her approach includes NWNG applying for a voluntary emissions reduction program through the Oregon Public Utility Commission. 


The program was created through an Oregon Senate Bill that passed in 2013. Now a statute, ORS 757.539 offers natural gas utility companies the opportunity to invest in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program has several eligibility requirements aimed at reducing emissions in ways that the untility company wouldn't normally do on their own.


In previous negotiations, neither party could agree on how generated funds from an agreement could be used. 


With Medary’s suggested approach, NWNG and city staff would work together to develop greenhouse gas reduction projects, and NWNG would then invest in the projects.


Medary told councilors the company agreed to give the City Manager, or herself, final approval of projects before they submit an application to the Public Utility Commission.


“It would be a combination of our staff, Northwest Natural working with the Energy Trust of Oregon, to really determine what that is, and that application requires a lot of analysis,” Medary said. “It requires being really upfront about what your greenhouse gas reductions are going to be, it requires stakeholder outreach.”


Participation in the voluntary emissions reduction program would work in tandem with a new franchise agreement. An official agreement hasn’t been drafted yet, but Medary offered a few updates which include shortening the agreement from 10 to 4 years, an increase in fees, and adding a 90 day termination clause. 


Councilors voted, 6-2, on a motion in support of Medary’s approach to working with NWN on carbon reductions and a new franchise agreement. 


Specifically, the motion gives the City Manager the authority to negotiate and approve NWNG’s emissions reduction program application with an emphasis on energy efficiency for lower income households. The City Manager must also schedule a public hearing in the fall on a new franchise agreement.


Councilor Emily Semple, who supported the motion, said the motion is a good step forward, but expressed concern over new infrastructure. 


“It’s just really hard because we said [Climate Recovery Ordinance], we said [Climate Action Plan 2.0], it’s totally urgent, and yet we’re going to let fossil fuel grow and you know I see both sides, I have gas in my house, but I know it’s not forever,” she said.


Semple and other councilors requested a work session on progress on the city’s Climate Action Plan 2.0, which includes the city's CRO.


Councilor Evans, who opposed the motion, said the motion doesn’t go far enough in meeting the city’s CRO goals that seeks to reduce community fossil fuel use by 50% of 2010 levels by 2030, and reducing other greenhouse gas emissions. 


“Everyone sees temperatures rising now,” Evans said, pointing to heatwaves in Montana and Arizona. Temperatures in Billings, MO reached 108 degrees on June 15, breaking a decades long records. Meanwhile, Phoenix, AZ reached117 degrees on June 17 after two consective days of 115 degree weather.


“The climate is changing rapidly and I think our response to it is slow, and it’s late and we need to make sure our CRO goals are more closely met,” Evans said.


Councilor Claire Syrett, who voted in favor of the motion, said she thinks at some point counselors will need to consider the idea of prohibiting new natural gas infrastructure with limited exceptions.


“But, I feel that the majority of our residents are not ready for us to do that today, in spite of the fact that there is broad support for our climate recovery goals, you know when it hits home, it hits home for people,” she said. 


Syrett said the agreement is a compromise and recognizes the contradiction Semple pointed out. She added the community has needs for development and that includes natural gas hookups, but there’s also a need for work on climate recovery goals.


“What that says to me, is that if we have a compromise here, then we have to look elsewhere in our climate recovery work, so we have other options that we could work on,” she said.


Copyright 2021 KLCC


Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.