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Kirkland residents concerned about potential power lines on Rose Hill
With the Seattle City Light power lines already laced throughout the South Rose Hill neighborhood, many Kirkland residents can’t imagine having more power lines in the area.
But there could be.
South Rose Hill residents cite aesthetics, property value, environmental impacts and health effects as major concerns of the potential 230 kilovolt electric transmission lines, proposed by Puget Sound Energy.
Puget Sound Energy officials recently announced plans for Energize Eastside, a project that will run the high voltage power lines from Redmond to Renton to accommodate the Eastside’s rapid growth.
Project construction is expected to begin in 2017.
But first, Puget Sound Energy officials need to pick where the lines will be routed -- through Kirkland’s South Rose Hill and Bridle Trails neighborhoods or through east Redmond?
The Kirkland portion, segment B, is one of 16 segments of power line the energy company will need to consider as they conduct a “robust” public engagement process throughout 2014.
Officials expect a final decision by the end of 2014.
Why more power lines?
During the past year, city officials have announced big things for Kirkland. Doubling the size of the Kirkland Google campus, the development of the Cross Kirkland Corridor, GoDaddy offices at Carillon Point and many capital projects are only a handful of examples that represent how the city is growing.
“By 2035, Kirkland will grow by 26 percent with employment growing by 47 percent, and we know that residents in Kirkland and the rest of the Eastside are counting on us to keep the lights on,” said Puget Sound Energy Vice President of Corporate Affairs Andy Wappler, citing information from the Puget Sound Regional Council. “And that’s what we’ll do.”
The Eastside is growing faster than any other region in Washington, energy officials say, but the growth is putting a strain on the region’s existing electric system.
Wappler said the expansion would serve all residents of the Eastside along the whole length of Interstate 405 and as for east as Woodinville.
Power lines as long as 18 miles would begin at the substation in Redmond by Willows Creek Neighborhood Park and make their way down to the substation at Talbot Hill near Philip Arnold Park in Renton. Depending on the route chosen, up to two new substations could be built in Bellevue.
The transmission lines would be about 100-feet high, connected by monopoles.
“These would be single poles, not big ‘erector set’ monsters,” Wappler said, referring to the lattice towers many think of.
Depending on the length of transmission lines and final design, the cost of the project could be between $150-$300 million. Wappler said the project cost would have minimal impact on rates because it is spread over the lifetime of the project, about three or four decades.
Puget Sound Energy’s last major update to the electric transmission line was in the 1960s.
“These communities like Kirkland have gone from largely residential to communities with lots of job growth and economic growth,” Wappler said.
Puget Sound Energy engineers tried to maximize existing corridors that already have transmission lines as they chose the potential routes.
But not every route is ideal.
President of the South Rose Hill Neighborhood Association Deirdre Johnson gave comments at the Kirkland City Council meeting on Dec. 10 during which the Council was briefed on the project by Puget Sound Energy officials.
“I’m concerned about health,” Johnson said. “I’m also concerned about aesthetics. I’m concerned about taking trees out -- a huge swath of trees out of Bridle Trails State Park.”
Johnson said the proposed route would put 230 kilovolt power lines in the front yard of residents who already have 115 kilovolt power lines from Seattle City Light in their backyard.
Johnson acknowledges there hasn’t been an update since the 1960s, but she said Energize Eastside looks like a “’60s” solution.
“More power lines and towers is not creative,” she said. “If we’re addressing the future, we’re hoping they would come up with new solutions.”
Puget Sound Energy officials contend that conservation alone is not enough. According to officials, the company has spent millions on energy efficiency and renewable power programs since 1979. They have helped customers save “enough electricity to power 30,000 homes in 2012.” But new solutions, such as under grounding the lines, are too expensive.
South Rose Hill resident Lisa Jaffe Hubbell said the proposed Kirkland route would go up and down the street she lives on.
“I haven’t done the research but I’m guessing there is a big hit in property values when the lines come to a street,” she said.
Hubbell has a certified arborist who takes care of the trees on her property and is worried Puget Sound Energy officials would greatly damage the trees by topping them off.
“I’m tired of seeing those orange Asplundh trucks going down the road, knowing how arbitrarily they cut,” Hubbell said, who has lived in Kirkland for 16 years. “[The certified arborists] often gasp in horror at what happens here on the Eastside compared to what happens in Seattle, where there are many beautiful old trees that don’t impact lines and cause power outages.”
Wappler said only a few trees would be taken out or trimmed back but no potential segment would go through Bridle Trails State Park, only near the park on 116th Avenue Northeast.
Nonetheless, Councilman Toby Nixon is a strong believer in preserving as many trees as Kirkland can, as is the Council.
“They have to clear quite a swath,” Nixon said. “I don’t know the exact width but I imagine it’s 100-feet wide. If you look at the western edge of Bridle Trails State Park, that’s going to be a huge amount of trees.”
Nixon said city staff is in the process of gathering more information on the environmental impact, as well as which city-owned facilities would be impacted by the potential route.
Personally, Nixon said he was concerned with the transmission line’s electromagnetic interference and how it would affect TV, radio and Wi-fi reception for nearby residents.
Although Nixon isn’t concerned about health impacts and more about the “quality of life,” at least two South Rose Hill residents are.
“Zigzagging new transmission lines across South Rose Hill would manage to create electromagnetic fields at three schools along the route: Holy Family School, Lake Washington High School and Rose Hill Elementary,” Johnson said in an email. “A trifecta!”
An electromagnetic field is a physical, yet invisible, field produced by electrically charged objects. These fields are present in everyday life and can be found near power lines, microwave ovens, computer and TV screens, security devices, radars and cell phones, to name a few.
Sandra Storwick, a South Rose Hill resident who has lived in Kirkland for 10 years, is concerned about radiation.
“I lived overseas for 10 years in the ‘80s and when I came back to visit my family, a lot had changed, cordless phones and microwaves had come,” said Storwick, a yoga teacher. “I picked up cordless phones and the feeling I felt in my hand and body, I didn’t even know the words to describe it yet, but I felt I had 10 cups of coffee, like my nerves had zapped instantly.”
Storwick said she is one of few who can feel these fields and has studied them for quite some time on her own. She now runs a blog called Washington Wireless Awareness.
The health impacts of low level, long-term exposure to electromagnetic fields are very controversial and continue to be studied by many scientists.
National and international guidelines prevent manufacturers from creating products that give off high levels of electromagnetic fields, which have been proven to be harmful to health, according to the World Health Organization’s findings from a rather large investigation launched in 1996.
“In our homes and businesses and schools today, where we use computers, TVs, office equipment, we are subject to the same amount of electromagnetic fields,” Wappler said. “We are around devices that we use every day that produce electromagnetic fields. Today, we rely on science, and at this point the World Health Organization has found no health effects.”
The World Health Organization states if these fields had any effect on cancer, the increased risk would be “extremely small.”
Electromagnetic fields are strongest underneath power lines, but according to the organization, the fields drop off with distance from high-voltage lines after about 50 meters to 100 meters, or 164 to 328 feet.
“In addition, house walls substantially reduce the electric field levels from those found at similar locations outside the house,” the World Health Organization’s website states.
Puget Sound Energy is actively acquiring representatives from across the Eastside to join the Energize Eastside Community Advisory Group so that concerns, such as the health impacts of electromagnetic fields, can be addressed.
Several meetings and workshops are planned for the upcoming year. Johnson said a Puget Sound Energy speaker will be at the South Rose Hill Neighborhood Association’s next meeting at 7 p.m., Jan. 14 at the Lake Washington United Methodist Church, located at 7525 132nd Ave. NE in Kirkland.
Nixon said he will also advocate for the city to have as much information on the project at their website, Kirklandwa.gov.
To submit comments or questions on Energize Eastside, call 1-800-548-2614 or email email@example.com.
For more information, visit www.energizeeastside.com.