April 20, 2021

Unions, businesses weigh in on NW Natural franchise agreement

Karyn Morrison and others spoke on behalf of the NW Natural franchise agreement.

Karyn Morrison and others spoke on behalf of the NW Natural franchise agreement.

Skilled union members and business owners spoke up during recent City Council meetings for the natural gas utility. It provides good-paying union jobs, and we have great workforce training in place.

Nate Stokes: My name is Nate Stokes. I’m a member of the Operating Engineers Local 701, and a proud journeyman operator who completed Local 701’s union apprenticeship program.

As a young father, the apprenticeship program changed my life and provided me and my family with an amazing opportunity for a rewarding career, without any of the crippling student debt that most young people face these days. Infrastructure work provides excellent family-wage jobs, and many more benefits to our community. The majority of my career has been spent building major infrastructure projects, providing people in the Pacific Northwest with safe and efficient transportation and clean water. We need to focus on our infrastructure now more than ever. Our local families and our climate depend on it.

As I warned last time in my comments, we just experienced what can happen when you put all your eggs in one basket. We failed to invest in local infrastructure when a winter storm left many communities without power and without heat for days. Upgrading our existing infrastructure is the fastest way to continue to transition to a hundred percent renewable energy today. Running around, shutting down entire sectors of the energy industry with the hope that we might someday find a way to replace them later with renewable alternatives is barely even a plan and definitely not the solution. We need to take action now so that we can continue the shift to clean renewable energy for our entire community and not just the ones that can afford to pay Premium Now.

Operating engineers have built most of the renewable energy facilities that now power our upgraded grid and deliver renewable power to homes and businesses across Oregon. It’s time to help us do the same with natural gas. It’s time to work together to continue the progress we have already made. I am here tonight to urge City Council to continue working with Northwest natural on the franchise agreement so that we can continue to prepare for a better greener future together sooner through smart infrastructure management. We must work to improve and regulate, not obliterate our infrastructure.

Shawn Basaraba: My name is Shawn Basaraba. I’m a Lane County resident, and a member of Operating Engineers Local 701. I’m a journeyman operator who works on the natural gas distribution lines throughout Eugene helping ensure the safe and reliable transmission of natural gas to thousands of homes and businesses in our region.

I spent years as an apprentice learning to perform my job safely and responsibly, and I take pride in the fact that my years of training have provided myself and my family with a great career and a family wage and full benefits. Every day, thousands of professionals just like me work hard to ensure that our community has the most reliable and technologically advanced energy grid available, an  energy grid that is ready for a renewable energy so that we can make the switch to greener alternatives sooner rather than later, an energy grid that is resilient so that our customers and neighbors don’t find themselves in the cold when winter storm strikes. I’m here tonight to urge the city council to continue working with Northwest natural on the franchise agreements so that we can all prepare for a better future together through hard work and cooperation.

Josh McClaughry: My name is Josh McClaughry. My full-time job is a business rep for Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation union, Local 16. I’m also on the Lane Workforce board of directors and a delegate to the Lane, Coos, Curry, Douglas building trades. I represent around 2,500 members in the state. A quarter of those members do live in Lane County. I am concerned about the impact of the policy regarding the natural gas issue on the living wage jobs in this area. And I strongly urge you guys to not make a decision on this policy until more information is available to the public.

Russ Benton: My name is Russ Benton. I’m a member of the Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation union. I also sit on the joint apprenticeship training committee for that organization. We currently have roughly about 350 students right now.  We are privately funded and we offer career pathways for students that either don’t have the means or the desire to attend a traditional four- year university. We offer a state -approved pre-apprenticeship program for any school district that wants to partake in that we’re happy to partner with them. We are 100% tuition free and we also, every one of our students has the ability to earn their associates applied science degrees through Mount Hood Community College, if they wish. We provide good living wage jobs for the folks that live here in the area of Eugene and Springfield and the surrounding areas all across the state. We have two campuses. One’s located right here in Eugene, as a matter of fact.  We are very concerned that no longer investing in the natural gas infrastructure could have a negative impact on not just jobs, but also the education and the career pathways for the students and the folks that live here in the area. We are concerned that without further review and more detailed information we’re worried that this could have a negative impact on the economy.

Here in Eugene especially in a time with economic downturn because of COVID and the loss of jobs, we didn’t want to compound the problem by not investing in our own infrastructure. I strongly urge the city council of Eugene to not making the decisions on this issue until more information can be gathered to establish the impact on the community and the jobs in the area.

Marshall “Chad” Dannen: My name is Marshall “Chad” Dannen, and I am the third-generation owner of Marshall’s heating, cooling insulation and fireplaces. Marshall has been serving Lane County since 1948,  when my grandparents started the business in Springfield. Marshall’s is in over 50 homes a day, the majority of which are located in Eugene.  We sell approximately 50% electric and 50% gas systems. We do this because our customers want a choice and because not everyone can efficiently heat with electricity and not everyone can afford a high efficiency, electric heating systems.

We install and connect gas lines to gas appliances that are super high efficiency at the source upwards of 98% efficiency. They are so efficient that the primary byproduct that we vent is water through PVC condensation trap. I am concerned because of conversations the city is having around the regulation of natural gas will be far reaching and have long lasting effects. For example, will the community continue to have energy choices for their heating and cooking appliances? Households looking to replace their old inefficient wood-burning fireplaces, be able to do so with high efficiency, gas inserts, and if they don’t have natural gas available, will they be using propane?

Jeff McGillivray: My name is Jeff McGillivray. I live in ward seven. I represent the workers from the Lane, Coos, Curry, Douglas construction trades tonight. I’m also speaking on the city’s franchise agreement with Northwest Natural. At this point now I would like to ask the council to not take any actions on those negotiations until further public input, given the public has not had the information made available to them. We believe this needs to happen before the actions taken. The workers I represent are professionals that will be heavily affected by this decision. They work with all these renewables, including the renewable natural gas and hydrogen that have been mentioned, they need to have their voices heard more public input is needed before we can make any decisions on this.

Karyn Morrison: My name is Karyn Morrison. I’m here on behalf of the Office and Professional Employees International union, Local 11. We represent members of Northwest Natural and have for decades. Our members service Northwest Natural customers, and they maintain the Northwest Natural infrastructure in Eugene.  Employees provide quality support for energy customers and they support the residents of Eugene every day. And we’ve heard from some that they want, that you want to ban gas infrastructure  in the Eugene community. Specifically, the Sustainability Commission is proposing this idea.  This will limit jobs in the Eugene community and doesn’t give us the chance to be part of the workforce that makes the transition to a carbon neutral energy system. For several years, Northwest Natural has shared its plans with the union continually working on ways to reduce emissions while making sure that our community has affordable, reliable, and safe energy choices for homes and businesses.

OPEIU Local 11 believes that Northwest Natural will continue to take the right steps. And we support their efforts around energy efficiency, as well as renewable natural gas and renewable hydrogen. The success of the company is  the success of its members that we represent and this success upholds the union’s aims and purpose to promote and protect and champion the necessity of workers in achieving economic wellbeing for the general welfare, as well as our community, as a whole on behalf of our members in Eugene OPEIU Local 11 asks that the city of Eugene support Northwest Natural’s energy transition and the opportunities that represents. And additionally, we look forward to learning more about the discussions regarding the franchise agreement and carbon reduction agreement discussed earlier tonight. And we welcome the opportunity to contribute feedback. Thank you.

Kathryn Williams: My name is Kathryn Williams. I’m the vice president of public affairs and sustainability at Northwest Natural. Northwest Natural has been a willing partner for the past several years to help reduce emissions and Eugene, and we don’t believe the direction discussed tonight is in the best interest of our customers, community or the climate. We know from surveying residents that the majority want to retain the right to choose their energy source. A mandate on electric equipment that takes away choice may be a well-intentioned gesture, but it’s an ineffective and expensive way to combat climate change. All forms of renewable energy are needed in a balanced low carbon future.  That’s why Northwest Natural is moving forward with our plan for a carbon neutral pipeline by 2050. 

Tom Walter: Hello, I’m Tom Walter. I have been a home builder in the area for 30 years. A huge advocate for natural gas heating, cooking, water heating and fireplaces in homes. I need you to focus on weather in our fine city. Just in my short career in 1994, 96, 2004, 2008, 14, 16, 17, and then 2019, we had ice winter snow events that led to significant power outages for thousands of Eugene residents. My customers love the fact that our natural gas fireplaces keep their homes livable when the power is out. I cannot imagine selling new homes to people in this climate without an alternative energy source or an alternative source of heat. New home buyers will rightfully demand. Gas is super clean- burning. It’s convenient, it’s affordable, it’s efficient, it’s not messy. The alternative is a wood-burning stove or fireplace. Growing up in Eugene in the ’70s, I can attest to the choking pollution from woodstove up and down my street was not desired.  One hundred percent of the 150 houses I have built over the last 20 years have had a gas fireplace, a gas cooktop, and a gas water heater. The decision to limit the city of Eugene from using their preferred option to heat, air, water, and food is lunacy. Further, it will lead to the deaths of people who are trying to find a second source of heat in some future storm event. See 14 deaths in Texas just last week from carbon monoxide poisoning. Every projected power outage has a tragic consequence. Eliminating the natural gas is not good public policy. It’s quite the opposite. I cannot believe it’s being considered. If it’s such a great idea, let’s put it to a public vote.

Lena Houston Davidson: I’m Lena Houston Davidson. As far as the natural gas goes, I’m low-income homeowner and I pay a mortgage to a bank, but I’m on fixed income. And, I am very much in favor of transition away from fossil fuels. We need renewable resources, renewable energy, but I’m also concerned about the resiliency and the reliability of our energy grid. I heard putting all the eggs in one basket. I do have natural gas as well. And I really appreciate when the power’s out, that I have an alternative, of course that’s important to me. I’m concerned that there won’t be enough of a fund to justly transition as a homeowner. I have a perfect situation for solar. I can’t afford to do it because I’m too poor, but I don’t make enough money to qualify. So there’s a lot of roadblocks for people to be able to transition to more renewable resources. And that needs to be looked at having better access for lower income people to have electric cars. It’s really just not accessible for a lot of people. And so that needs to be considered, but, and putting in underground like power when it’s possible. Like you didn’t do on Willamette Street.

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