Do Cities Dream of Electric Stoves? – Eugene Weekly
Before it gets into your gas stove, natural gas begins its journey as overheated, decomposed plants and animals deep below the surface of the earth. From there, the methane-laden fossil fuel is extracted from the ground, processed and transported to households via gas pipelines owned and operated by gas suppliers. These companies typically pay fees to local governments in what are known as franchise agreements, which allow them to freely lay and maintain pipes under the city streets.
Natural gas regulation and large-scale electrification of buildings are at the center of the debate on how to wean Eugene off fossil fuels. After years of failed negotiations with gas company NW Natural over the terms of a new franchise agreement, Mayor Lucy Vinis and Eugene City Council are considering new ways to bring the city to full decarbonization, with or without an agreement with the gas supplier.
The majority of homes in Eugene are heated by electricity, but for those who aren’t – which EWEB estimates it’s roughly one in four Eugene homes – the natural gas is used to heat homes and water, as well as gas stoves. delivered NW nature.
In Vinis’ own home, NW Natural gas powers her oven and range, although she says she is trading in her gas range for an electric one.
“I would also like to convert my stove to an electric one,” says Vinis, “but I have an older house, so the conversion is not that easy.”
The 20-year franchise agreement, first negotiated in 1999, expired in 2019 and prompted NW Natural councilors and officials to meet to discuss the terms of a new contract. In line with the CO2 reduction targets set in the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0, city councils tried to limit future expansion of the natural gas infrastructure in Eugene and to increase utility charges.
But as the negotiations dragged on, it became clear that the company would not cooperate.
“It goes without saying that any move out of the city to promote electrification is perceived as a threat to a gas supplier’s business model,” says Vinis. “That’s why it’s so hard to do.”
After several six-month extensions, the city finally withdrew from the negotiations in May. NW Natural is currently operating in Eugene without a franchise agreement, meaning the company must apply for an individual project permit every time it needs to repair its pipes or install new ones.
According to statistics in Eugene’s CAP 2.0, natural gas accounts for 27.8 percent of the city’s CO2 emissions, of which 30 percent come from residential use and 70 percent from commercial and industrial use. An EWEB study from 2020 on the potential effects of electrification showed that households with electrical appliances emit 56 percent less CO2 than gas households.
The same study found that, combined with the increased use of electric vehicles, widespread electrification of commercial and residential buildings could reduce CO2 emissions to such an extent that 14 percent of the city’s CO2 reduction targets will be achieved by 2030.
‘If we want to take
about the climate, then we
need the city
We just don’t
still time to
Kick the can
down the street.’
– Dylan Plumber,
senior campaign manager,
So how do we get there?
Dylan Plummer, a local grassroots organizer and senior campaign manager for the Sierra Club, says it’s easier than the city council says it’s going to be. The city, he says, should abandon the franchise agreement and impose a higher fee on NW Natural to fund projects to electrify future building developments in Eugene and invest in research into electrification of the city’s existing building stock.
“We shouldn’t be working with fossil fuel companies to reduce emissions,” says Plummer. “We should regulate our city as a democratically elected body.”
Plummer and other climate organizers sent the city council a letter signed by representatives from 25 community organizations in which activists outline a detailed plan for the city to switch to fossil fuels.
By increasing the percentage of its revenue, Northwest Natural is paying the city from 5 percent to 7 percent, the letter said the city could generate an additional $ 560,000 annually. This additional money could then flow into a transitional fund to support the implementation of programs to increase the efficiency of existing electrical appliances in commercial buildings as well as the conversion of natural gas households in Eugene to electricity. The letter also calls for the city to ban all future natural gas infrastructures and for the city council to work on a roadmap detailing the steps necessary to electrify Eugene’s entire building stock by 2045.
“If we want to take meaningful steps in terms of climate protection, we have to do everything in their power,” says Plummer. “We just don’t have time to kick the can down the street.”
EWEB Managing Director Frank Lawson says the best way to electrify the city is to make electricity cheaper for customers than natural gas. EWEB already offers financial incentives for the use of electricity compared to gas in the form of bar discounts for the purchase of electric water heaters and the charging of electric vehicles. But the more federal and local governments do to encourage the adoption of electricity, the faster that transition will be, Lawson says.
“If you save money, that payback will affect many people’s decisions,” he says.
EWEB Board Commissioner Matt McRae says, however, that full electrification will still take time. With many homes in Eugene being rental properties, it is difficult for policy makers to incentivize electrification and building efficiency. Financial benefits would have to be shared between owners and tenants, making incentives difficult to work as intended.
The transition is possible and necessary, says McRae, but the city has a long list of hurdles to overcome before electrification will have a noticeable impact on CO2 emissions.
“It won’t work overnight,” he says. “It will likely take several decades to complete this transition.”
Vinis points out that funding is the biggest hurdle preventing the city from acting swiftly on electrifying the building. If the city is to achieve carbon neutrality in the decades ahead, individuals will need to change their lifestyle – like restricting the use of fossil fuel vehicles and switching from natural gas appliances to electrical appliances.
But that won’t work without the support of the city. Even with additional revenue from increased fees, Vinis says the city doesn’t have the money to support households who can’t afford to electrify their homes.
“It is the job of the city and public order to create a landscape that makes it easier for the community to do what it has to do,” she says. “The community cannot shoulder this alone.”
After EW went to press, at a working session on November 17, Eugene City Council passed two motions initiating the process of moving the city to 100 percent electric buildings. The council voted 5 to 2 for the employees to investigate how a mandate can be implemented according to which all new buildings should be 100 percent electric by 2023. The second application is for city workers to find a way to convert all buildings to electricity.
This article has been updated.