Energize Eastside project sparks opposition

This map shows two potential routes for Puget Sound Energy
This map shows two potential routes for Puget Sound Energy's Energize Eastside project, which would run 18 miles of transmission lines from Renton to Redmond.
— image credit: Puget Sound Energy

As Puget Sound Energy continues community engagement for its Energize Eastside project, running 18 miles of transmission lines from Redmond to Renton, a group in the Somerset neighborhood of Bellevue isn't buying the company's claim that it's for the betterment of the people.

PSE proposes to run the 18 miles of transmission lines on either of two routes through mostly public right of way (See map) and in areas where older 115 kilovolt lines already exist and replace them with 230 kilovolt lines.

Bellevue is currently running on a system that was put in place in the 1960s, said Andy Wappler, PSE vice president of corporate affairs, but that was when there were about 50,000 residents on the Eastside and not the 300,000 today, or the 275 percent growth of central business in Bellevue projected by 2040.

Wappler said 2014 will be spent conducting public engagement, which includes a community advisory group.

"It's to serve Bellevue and the rest of the community and our customers," said Wappler of Energize Eastside. " So, to have people involved and to know about it is a good thing."

But the Somerset Community Association argues the demand for more energy on the Eastside is being inflated by PSE to satisfy another agenda.

"The line shouldn't be built because we should be doing things on the conservation side," said Todd Anderson, chairman for the Somerset Community Association technical committee.

Anderson, who holds a masters degree in electrical engineering, contends the $155-$288 million that would go into the project could provide enough conservation measures to negate the need for the project.

Wappler said increased conservation remains integral to PSE's future plans, but it can't "save your way out of the problem" by itself.  The company recently submitted to the state its 2014-15 conservation plan, which he said includes $105 million in grants and rebates to customers, including businesses and property developers.

Energy efficiency projects explored by PSE included solar panels on Eastside rooftops, which Wappler said would generate power at the wrong peak times. The company also considered storage of 400 "shipping-container sized" batteries to the Eastside for an on-demand power source, but that created the problem of where to locate them and the $6 million price tag per battery, he said.

PSE also explored whether a new natural gas-fired electric generator plant would be a good fit on the Eastside, said Wappler, but that also required a larger natural gas pipeline to be run through the area.

Anderson said the increased capacity need seems more for the benefit of Canada, which receives power through the Northern Intertie, and significantly more than the Eastside during peak energy demand in the winter.

Operating at 100 percent conservation, PSE assumed 2013-14 winter demand at 652 megawatts for the Eastside and 1,500 megawatts for the Northern Intertie, according to its Eastside Needs Assessment. The amount predicted for Canada exports remains the same in its 2021-22 projections factoring in extreme weather and rises to 756 megawatts for the Eastside.

The needs assessment also points out Bonneville Power is making commitments to the Northern Intertie for 2,300 megawatts of electricity that includes 200 megawatts on the east side of the Intertie at Nelway. "Therefore in the ten-year summer cases this flow will increase to 2,300 MW to cover the additional commitments that are being made on the Northern Intertie including the 200 MW on the east side of the tie at Nelway," the document states.

Wappler said regional reliability is good, but a small part of the Energize Eastside project.

"It appears there may be some other agenda going on," said Steve O'Donnell, president of the Somerset Community Association and its representative on PSE's community advisory group, later adding, "We're not exactly sure what the other agendas are."

While Anderson argues the demand for more energy over the next several decades isn't what PSE says it will be is the reason to fight Energize Eastside, O'Donnell adds the visual impact of poles that go with the lines is another big reason to oppose the project.

"We don't want industrial blight running through our neighborhoods," O'Donnell said, adding he's calling on Bellevue councilmembers to make good on their campaign promises to preserve the integrity of the city's many neighborhoods.

Wappler said the poles used for the project will be 90-125 feet tall and current poles are around 70 feet in height. An alternative proposed by a number of residents to run the lines underground is not being looked at as a feasible option, he said.

Above-ground transmission lines are the standard in Washington, said Wappler, and significantly less expensive and environmentally intrusive than running lines underground — PSE has only one line that goes underground for 7/10 of a mile. He added the state utilities commission states if a community wants underground lines, it is the residents' responsibility to pay for it.

"The community would have to figure it out," Wappler said of paying the price tag for underground lines. "We can't figure out who pays for it and how."

Anderson said representatives from 18 neighborhoods from Renton to Kirkland will convene later this year to hold a mass summit to discuss the issue of new transmission lines on the Eastside.

A question-and-answer session with PSE will be held 6-9 p.m. Monday, April 21 in the cafeteria building at the Renton Technical College, 3000 N.E. Fourth St. A central subarea committee workshop will be held 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 23 in the Skyview Ballroom of the Bellevue Hilton, 300 112th Ave. S.E.


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