[NEWS] Eugene, Oregon Pays Triple the Cost For Biomass Energy
– by Christian Wihtol, May 5, 2016, Register Guard
After refusing for nearly six years to disclose any part of its contract to buy power from the Seneca woodburning electricity plant north of Eugene, the Eugene Water & Electric Board has agreed to disclose most of the contract and pay The Register-Guard $70,000 for legal costs the paper incurred fighting for the release.
The settlement between the paper, EWEB and Seneca Sustainable Energy LLC, which is owned by the local Jones family, comes just before the dispute was to go to trial in Lane County Circuit Court.
It caps a dispute that began in October 2010, when EWEB refused the newspaper’s public-records request for the contract. EWEB, and later Seneca, said the entire document could be kept secret under state law. The newspaper argued that while some parts might be kept secret, under law EWEB must disclose the bulk of it.
EWEB in 2010 agreed to buy the entire electrical output of the Seneca plant for 15 years, starting when the plant went online in 2011.
Under the settlement, EWEB will not disclose how much it pays Seneca each year for power.
However, other EWEB documents, comments by EWEB officials, and records released separately by Seneca, indicate the binding contract is a money-sapping deal for EWEB ratepayers.
EWEB must pay Seneca a per megaWatt-hour rate that amounts to about three times what EWEB pays for power from its main contracted source, the Bonneville Power Administration, the records show. But EWEB has much more power than its Eugene customers need; the agency currently sells its surplus power on the glutted open regional wholesale market for only about a quarter of the rate EWEB pays Seneca for power, the records indicate.
EWEB stresses Seneca energy is a small part of the power the agency buys or generates — only about three percent. Nearly three-quarters of EWEB power comes from less expensive sources: the BPA and EWEB’s own dams.