Puget Sound Energy’s Energize Eastside project will replace two-pole towers with taller, single poles and four-pole towers with two poles. Photos courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

Puget Sound Energy’s Energize Eastside project will replace two-pole towers with taller, single poles and four-pole towers with two poles. Photos courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

Fight over Energize Eastside continues

Community groups remain opposed to PSE’s planned system upgrade.

The debate continues around whether a new high-voltage transmission line should be built as Puget Sound Energy moves forward with its planned Energize Eastside expansion.

A public hearing was held March 30 at Bellevue City Hall where community members again voiced their concerns, including Don Marsh, leader of Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy (CENSE). In an interview, Marsh explained his major concerns, including worries that an expansion wasn’t necessary to meet future demand for power.

“We are definitely at the very top line focusing on the very outdated forecast and information that PSE is basing this project on,” he said.

Marsh said forecasts from Seattle City Light, a separate entity from PSE, are projecting that energy use will decrease as the utility rolls out energy-saving technology and works to make buildings more efficient. Projections from Seattle City Light show energy use is projected to decline on average by around 100 megawatts (MW) between 2018 and 2037, with average peak loads dropping from around 1,750 MW to just over 1,500 MW.

The proposed 230 MW line would run from Renton through Bellevue and end in Redmond. PSE has said it needs to upgrade its power lines, and has not made major improvements to the Eastside’s power grid since the 1960s. Additionally, PSE argues that federal regulations require it to have sufficient infrastructure to meet foreseeable demand to maintain reliability for customers.

PSE also argued that conservation wasn’t enough to meet projected demand. However, the company is owned by Canadian companies including AIMCo and OMERS, as opposed to Seattle City Light, which is a local municipal corporation. Marsh questioned whether the Energize Eastside project was needed or if it was designed to increase profits.

Seattle City Light has “no profit incentive for overbuilding their infrastructure,” Marsh said. “PSE on the other hand is a 100 percent foreign-owned company and their investors being remote from this area are more focused on boosting revenues than they are the safety or quality of life of our communities.”

Construction for Energize Eastside was scheduled to begin last summer, but has been working its way through the local permitting process since then, including the March 30 public hearing at Bellevue. The project has also been opposed by the environmental groups 350 Eastside and the Sierra Club, which joined CENSE in 2017.

“It’s not the case that you have a neighborhood association teaming up with an environmental group that’s looking at global carbon emissions. That’s a coalition that doesn’t necessarily happen by accident,” Marsh said.

CENSE has been asking PSE to look at alternative ways of increasing reliability and conserving power such as putting power lines underground or purchasing large energy storage batteries which can be gradually added to the system.

However, at a hearings examiner meeting that was continued on April 3, PSE’s manager of electric system planning Jens Nedrud said many of the claims made by CENSE were inaccurate.

Nedrud said PSE must build its infrastructure to meet projected peak demand as required by federal regulations. This means PSE has to handle the maximum amount of energy that could be used based on models and simulations that they are required to run. Additionally, the power system must be able to withstand multiple equipment failures to maintain reliability, Nedrud said.

Peak energy use occurs both in the winter and summer, and while more energy is used in the winter, the summer peak is more taxing on infrastructure. Hotter temperatures can lead equipment to work hotter and make it less efficient, Nedrud said. Upgrading the system would help alleviate stress on the current aging system.

“In the summertime, our equipment does not perform as well,” Nedrud said.

In particular, the summer of 2018 power use exceeded PSE predictions. Additionally, more houses in PSE’s service area are being built with air conditioning, and developments on the Eastside are making residential areas more dense and power-intensive.

Power demand on PSE’s system is expected to grow by around 1.8 percent annually. With conservation efforts, this can be reduced to around 1.4 percent, Nedrud said, but total use will still increase. This will place even more strain on the system, and even if customers conserve more energy, there will still be more people using energy.

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