Eastside’s 18-mile voltage lines

In 2013, Puget Sound Energy proposed an expansion to already existing infrastructure called Energize Eastside, which they state is required to ensure reliable power on the Eastside, taking into consideration the increasing demand as population grows. PSE projects that without these upgrades, rolling blackouts will need to be implemented to protect equipment when demand is high.

According to PSE, Energize Eastside is a three-pronged project that includes conservation, a new substation that will be built near an already-existing substation close to BC, and the addition of a 230 kilovolt line going along 18 miles from Renton to Redmond, replacing existing poles that range from 50 to 70 feet in height with larger poles ranging from 85 to 100 feet. PSE recently announced their preferred route for the power lines, named Willow 2 that uses the existing route with a new segment in Factoria. The Willow 2 plan is available for viewing on the Energize Eastside website.

“The problem that the system that serves all the Eastside communities is facing is a delivery problem,” stated PSE Communication Initiatives Manager Gretchen Aliabadi. While adequate power is being generated, the transformers and power lines are not rated for the increase in demand that is projected to occur on the Eastside.

However, this plan has been met with resistance from a group of citizens called the Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy. CENSE does not believe that the project is necessary and commissioned an independent study called the Lauckhart-Schiffman Load Flow Study that concluded that the projected blackouts would not occur for several decades. “This project, we don’t believe improves our reliability at all,” stated CENSE President Don Marsh.

PSE disagrees with the study, saying it does not follow federal standards by not calculating enough variations of things that could go wrong. In order to establish reliability, simulations need to be run taking into consideration multiple variations of contingencies. Based on documents provided to PSE, The Lauckhart-Schiffman study looked at one contingency whereas PSE’s simulations took many contingencies into consideration.

Another concern brought up by CENSE revolves around the safety of the Olympic Pipeline, which runs along the same route as the power lines. In addition to the risk of damaging the pipeline during construction, concerns have been raised regarding the interaction of power lines and the gas line.

“I can say this company is all about safety. They preach safety, safety is the number one thing in our goals and requirements every year and the only interest we have is to operate any of our systems, whether it’s electrical or natural gas safely. There’s just no other way about it,” stated Aliabadi.

Additionally, CENSE has concerns about the visual impact of the new power lines. “We’re going to be looking at those in 10 or 20 years and go ‘Oh my gosh, why did we do that?’ It’s like a return to the last century and that’s really what’s not needed now,” stated Marsh.

Citizens in Newcastle are worried about the setback distance between properties and the power lines, CENSE believes that houses may need to be demolished to make room and ensure safety of the surrounding residences. Aliabadi clarified that the 50-foot setback distance is not a set distance that must be maintained, but instead is a trigger for engineering studies that must be undertaken. When it comes to demolishing houses, “that is not something that we want to do, it doesn’t make any sense to us,” said Aliabadi.  The Energize Eastside website states that the current preferred route will not result in the loss of any homes. “Our preferred route, based on what we know today, does not condemn anybody’s homes anywhere.”

Those interested in more information about Energize Eastside and CENSE’s opposition can visit the Energize Eastside website at energizeeastside.com as well as CENSE’s website at cense.org.