Energize Eastside draft impact statement highlights need for the project and potential weaknesses

Tallying up to nearly 550 pages, the Phase 2 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Energize Eastside is a daunting document, but interested parties are already poring through the pages.

The city of Bellevue and partner cities have compiled the lengthy report on the project, an electrical transmission project through Puget Sound Energy proposing an 18-mile stretch of 230-kilovolt (kV) power lines from Redmond to Renton, passing through Kirkland, Bellevue and Newcastle.

The impact statement provided some surprising details for both proponents and opponents of the controversial project.

Diann Strom, a consultant for Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) communications initiatives, said the findings were more or less in line with what the utilities company expected.

“In general, it supports what we’ve been saying all along,” she said. “It says we can safely construct the project.”

The project’s proposed lines would go to service a new substation built in Bellevue near Richards Creek.

“This set of facilities is proposed to address a deficiency in electrical transmission capacity during peak periods that PSE has identified through its system planning process,” the impact statement’s introduction reads.

The impact statement goes through individual issues on a project-wide basis and long-term impacts (impacts to be felt after the project is completed). It looks at two options, the “no action” alternative which would not make any significant changes to electrical infrastructure on the Eastside and Alternative 1, the 18-mile 230kv project.

For example, in the housing and land-use section, the statement affirms that no residences would need to be demolished to make way for the project, but “ancillary structures” such as sheds or garages might be impacted.

That does depend on alternate routes Puget Sound Energy has planned for should something stymie efforts to use an existing utilities corridor.

One of those entities, the East Bellevue Community Council, has challenged the utilities company before. The preferred route for Energize Eastside would skirt the territory under the council’s purview. PSE has planned a “bypass route” which would head into the Bel-Red and Overlake areas, well off the beaten path of existing utilities.

Bill Capron, president of the community council, said he found the idea of a bypass route “hilarious.”

“They are only doing it to avoid us,” he said. “That’s the only reason to prepare the bypass routes, to avoid the thoughtful people on the East Bellevue Community Council. The line should stay in an existing corridor.”

A section of the line from the Richards Creek substation to the Renton substation (called Segment 2) has been analyzed for four different routes, including PSE’s preferred Willow 1 which would follow an existing utilities corridor for much of the route before climbing into Somerset and the Coal Creek area on its way south to Newcastle and then Renton.

The transmission line would share space in a utilities corridor with an Olympic Pipeline company petroleum products pipeline.

Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy (CENSE), has claimed the danger of an alternating current high voltage line existing withing 50 feet of an underground high-pressure petroleum products pipeline posed an undue risk to residents living nearby the proposed route.

The Draft EIS stated it didn’t have enough data to do a truly complete study, but that it found either a potential increase which could be mitigated or no increase in risk on the co-located utilities in the corridor.

“Under Alternative 1, the probability of a pipeline incident could be slightly higher in some locations when compared with the No Action Alternative. In these areas, testing, monitoring, engineering analysis, and implementation of mitigation measures would lower these risks,” it reads. “However, the risk would be reduced in segments and options with fewer miles of the transmission line co-located with the Olympic Pipelines. Bypass Option 2 has the lowest number of co-located miles in the Bellevue Central Segment, and the Willow 1 Option has the lowest number of co-located miles in the Bellevue South Segment.”

CENSE’s president Don Marsh said the risk is still present.

“We were quite surprised by this document,” he said. “PSE continues to push the line that rolling blackouts will occur if they don’t construct this project. We think that has a very low likelihood of every happening and one which could be fixed in 15 minutes or half an hour by employees who see the problem on the grid. Obviously the pipeline risk is very low as well, but it seems like an unnecessary risk.”

Puget Sound Energy has claimed that rising energy needs on the Eastside will necessitate the Energize Eastside project by summer of 2018 or the company may have to institute rolling blackouts to maintain a federal level of electrical reliability across the grid.

Opponents say that the numbers PSE has used to justify the project are a worst-case scenario and not realistic, as the Eastside is capable of conservation efforts.

The impact statement agrees, to a point.

“It is possible that by delaying the project, some of the expanded conservation measures described in the Phase 1 Draft EIS would be incorporated into development, reducing energy demand further than PSE has projected,” it reads. “PSE’s customers could respond with increased energy conservation during peak periods to avoid outages, but PSE could not rely on voluntary conservation during such periods unless they have control over customers’ rates of consumption. This type of demand reduction is technically feasible, but PSE cannot compel customers to adopt it, and few have shown willingness to employ that option under their current conservation program.”

It concludes a summary by stating any delay on the project could impact life and the economy on the Eastside, as developers, home buyers and business owners might shy away from living or working in a place with blackouts.

“Safety is our first priority. We are replacing wood poles with stronger steel ones and the transmission wires will be thicker,” Strom said, referring to a shield casing on the lines which will help present corrosion and arcing. “If, by next summer we don’t have the project in place, we will have to implement corrective plans which include rolling blackouts.”

Much of this is speculative, as the impact statement admits. Residents will have an opportunity to comment on the Draft EIS for 45 days, until June 21. Public hearings will be available on May 23 at 6 p.m. at Oliver Hazen High School in Renton, May 25 at 6 p.m. at Bellevue City Hall and June 3 at 2 p.m. at Rose Hill Elementary in Kirkland. CENSE will be meeting with residents at 10 a.m. on May 20 at East Shore Unitarian Church.

Comments can be submitted at info@EnergizeEastsideEIS.org, or by mail at:

City of Bellevue Development Services Department

Attn: Heidi Bedwell, Environmental Planning Manager

P.O. Box 90012 Bellevue, WA 98009-9012

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