Discussions between Puget Sound Energy (PSE), the city of Bellevue and the Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy (CENSE) on PSE’s Eastside Energy (EE) project continued at a special council meeting Oct. 16 at City Hall.
CENSE has filed an appeal challenging the city hearing examiner’s recent recommendation to approve the South Bellevue segment of EE. The transmission line in question runs 3.3 miles, from a proposed Richards Creek Substation to south Bellevue city limits.
EE has remained a point of contention between PSE, city officials and community activists on the Eastside for several years. EE is a project that will result in an 18-mile high-voltage transmission line that runs through Redmond, Bellevue, Newcastle and Renton. PSE says that the eight-fold growth on the Eastside is among the reasons why the project is necessary, and that it has looked at alternative measures and hasn’t found any viable ones.
Making an upgrade, according to PSE, would also ease strain during peak energy use, which is typically in the winter and summer, when citizens are prone to using more energy in response to high or low temperatures.
The purpose of the meeting, which was considered a quasi-judicial matter and therefore resulted in no public comments or decisions from the council, was to hear oral arguments from both sides regarding the appeal. Because of its quasi-judicial nature, the city attorney, Kathy Gerla, clarified at the beginning of the meeting that the council would not be acting in a policymaking or legislative role.
A final council vote on whether to accept or reject the hearing examiner’s recommendation is being pushed to a later date.
“No matter what, if we go ahead with a hearing, we will not be making a decision tonight,” Mayor John Chelminiak said.
Councilmember Jennifer Robertson recused herself from the Oct. 16 meeting due to a business-related conflict of interest. CENSE also requested that Chelminiak recuse himself from the hearing. It cited, in a complaint, “apparent bias and prejudgment of the claims of the appellants in this appeal” evidenced by a partisan permitting process and one-sided information about EE on the city’s “Electrical Reliability web page.”
Chelminiak declined the request. He said in a statement that he didn’t have any involvement with decisions involving materials on the city’s website, and that administrative departments within the city are the responsible parties, not him.
“I have not prejudged the issues and do not believe that I am biased in favor of or against any party,” Chelminiak said in the statement. “I will make my decision in this case fairly and impartially, based on the record before the hearing examiner and the arguments presented by the parties.”
The appeal submitted by CENSE revolves around three main points, according to a press release. In the first, the CENSE says that PSE did not provide adequate data to show that there is an increasing demand for electricity on the Eastside, and that the hearing examiner made a mistake by dismissing a joint motion from CENSE and collaborative organization Citizens for Sane Eastside Energy (CSEE) imploring PSE to provide the data needed to show the necessity of the project.
“We think that need has not been shown on the south segment,” said J. Richard Aramburu, a lawyer representing CENSE.
In the second point, CENSE said that PSE didn’t give a compelling explanation to divide the EE project into two separate undertakings (the south segment up for discussion is one of them). And in the third, CENSE stated that PSE didn’t provide evaluations of potential alternates that were unbiased in accordance with Bellevue’s current land-use code.
The parties at the appeal meeting were given limited time to make their arguments. A video of the hearing in full can be found on the city of Bellevue’s website.
CENSE has, in addition to the concerns invoked in the appeal, voiced concerns over the transmission line’s location and impact to the surrounding environment. PSE said it has looked at alternatives, but found that other options wouldn’t as effectively serve an area as large as the Eastside. CENSE has stated that the company hasn’t looked enough.
There is no set date for the next hearing. Chelminiak said that, with the amount of records the council has to look at to make a decision on the hearing examiner’s recommendation, it could be up to a few weeks.
“It would not surprise me if we are 30 days out,” he said.
Chelminiak concluded the hearing by saying that the city will be giving as much advance notice as possible before the next meeting.