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Local energy use appears to be declining as residents conserve

University of Oregon biology Professor Chris Doe showers in water warmed in part by a rooftop solar water heater. He stores his food in a refrigerator powered in part by rooftop photovoltaic cells. He drives an all-electric car that he charges at no cost to himself at an outlet in a parking lot near his UO office.

Lured largely by tax and other financial breaks for all of his green upgrades, Doe has substantially shrunk his and his family’s environmental footprint.

“They all had great tax incentives, which motivated me to do it. It was just too good of a deal,” Doe said.

The solar hot-water and photovoltaic panels have cut his electric use at his College Hill home. Plus, in the summer, he sells excess electricity from his photovoltaic panels to the Eugene Water & Electric Board. His Nissan Leaf requires no gasoline, and he is even able to skip the typical several-dollar cost for each recharge. The UO, as part of its own green push, has installed electric-vehicle charging outlets at new buildings, and Doe plugs into those.

Interviewed last week, Doe noted that another all-electric vehicle was parked next to his in the UO parking lot. “They’re cropping up all over,” he said.

In part because of folks such as Doe, Eugene residents and businesses appear to be buying less electricity, gasoline and diesel, natural gas and water, a new city report has found.

Not all the reduction is a result of people cutting back as a conscious choice to tread more lightly on the planet.

Some, perhaps most, of the decline is a result of major industrial closures forced by the long economic downturn, the report said. Some may be caused by recent weather patterns, including a few warmer winters and cooler, wetter summers, which prompt people to use less electricty and water, officials said.

Matt McRae, the city of Eugene’s climate and energy analyst, said it’s hard to figure out exactly how much of the downward consumption trends result from consumers’ deliberate green choices, and how much result from large forces that are beyond local control, such as the economy or the weather.

“It’s absolutely a mix. It’s really hard to tease out how much is due to the economic downturn and how much to conscious decison making,” he said.

But whatever the cause, city residents and businesses are headed in the right direction, lessening their environmental impact, the city says in its annual progress report on the Community Climate and Energy Action Plan.

The city report doesn’t calculate per-­capita usage. Rather, it looks at what the community as a whole is consuming.

The City Council set its climate plan in place in 2010. The goals are to reduce communitywide greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020; to reduce communitywide fossil fuel use by 50 percent by 2023; and to identify strategies to adapt to climate change.

Whether Eugene’s apparent greening trend will continue is unclear.
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