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Residents give PSE officials an earful during council presentation

PSE
PSE's future growth map showing demand for power.
— image credit: Courtesy image

Residents from Renton and beyond on Monday took advantage of representatives from Puget Sound Energy attending the City Council meeting to speak out on their opposition to the energy purveyor’s “Energize Eastside” plan.

PSE officials were on hand to present a presentation on the plan, which will replace the current transmission lines between Renton and Sammamish with new, higher-capacity lines.

According to Andy Wappler, vice president of corporate affairs, the power supply on the Eastside has not been upgraded since the 1960s and will no longer meet the needs of residents and businesses by 2018.

Wappler said PSE expects Renton to add 5,000 jobs and 8,800 residents before 2016, based on the city’s 2012 economic forecast. Using Puget Sound Regional Council numbers, Wappler said the population of Renton is expected to grow 36 percent by 2035 and jobs will increase by 39 percent.

To meet the growing need, the company says it needs to replace the 18 miles of 115 kilovolt transmission lines that run up the Eastside to 230 kV lines. Without the upgrade, Wappler said, PSE is not confident it can supply the full amount of power residents and businesses in the area will need.

Wappler said PSE has proposed a series of possible paths stretching between its Talbot Hill and Sammamish substations (the Sammamish Station is actually in Redmond), but does not have a preferred route among the group.

For Renton, there are two possible routes through the city. The first path, known as the “M Route,” runs approximately parallel to Monroe Avenue Northeast on an existing right-of-way that houses the current lines.

The second path, the “L Route” runs past Gene Coulon Park and along the lake shore before veering east again just south of Interstate 90 and runs primarily through the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad right-of way, an easement to which PSE purchased in 2010.

Both options would utilize above-ground transmission lines. Wappler said placing the lines underground increases construction costs from $3 million - $4 million per mile to $20 million to $28 million per mile. And because the decision to go underground we be an aesthetic choice made by the community, under Washington state law, the additional costs would be borne by the community.

Following their presentation, Councilman Randy Corman asked why the company couldn’t run a line down the Interstate 90 corridor from its Issaquah transmission line and avoid Renton entirely, considering much of the growth on the Eastside is from Bellevue to points north.

Wappler said such a move would mean there were no redundancies for Renton and would leave the city vulnerable in the near future.

“Yes, the capacity may be there today, but it won’t last for long,” Wappler said.

Representatives for the company stayed for the audience comment portion of the meeting and got an earful from residents in attendance, with many applauding Corman’s suggestion and saying neither choice is acceptable.

Almost to a person, speakers said the “L” route, along the lake, would be particularly unacceptable to residents.

“There is another solution,” said Sally McCray, who lives along the “L” line.

“Force PSE to go back to the drawing board,” said Paul Ouelette.

Residents also made it clear they would like to see the lines go underground, stating that because underground wires are more reliable, the additional costs could be borne by all PSE customers, not just those in the cities that want the lines underground.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Wappler addressed both Corman’s suggestion and undergrounding.

Wappler said though the map showing growth in power demands does show a larger increase in usage to the north of I-90, a large section of Renton also shows increased need for power, especially the areas on either side of state Route 900, including North Renton, the Highlands and the Kennydale neighborhoods.

“The use in Renton, particularly on either side of SR900, is one of the areas of heaviest energy use,” Wappler said, adding that he means that not only in the future but in the “present tense.”

Wappler said the substation that serves Renton, located on Talbot Hill, is already nearing or over capacity on high-demand days.

“This is a Renton issue that requires a Renton solution,” he said. “Building a system that only serves the north would provide no relief to that substation that serves Renton.”

As for putting the wires underground, Wappler said that would be a “major construction project” that could disturb much more land for a longer period of time than above- ground wires. He also said that while putting wires underground means fewer (but potentially longer) outages, under current regulations, the reliability issue is secondary to the aesthetic benefits and therefore the communities that choose to place wires underground would be responsible to pay.

In the end, even after the public process, which is expected to last through all of 2014, the decision of where to put the wires falls squarely with PSE.

Corman also reminded the crowd on Monday that while he and his fellow councilmembers may be able to use the “bully pulpit” to attempt to sway the company one way of the other, “the fact is it’s not our jurisdiction.”

For more information on the project, visit www.energizeeastside.com.

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