Puget Sound Energy chooses existing corridor for Energize Eastside

Puget Sound Energy officials recently announced they’ll keep their existing corridor for the $300 million Energize Eastside project, which is scheduled for construction in summer 2018.

“Willow 1,” as they call the route, is the least impactful route for the proposed 230,000-volt transmission line, they said. The route begins in Redmond’s Willow-Rose Hill neighborhood, goes through 9 miles of Bellevue and ends in Renton’s Talbot Hill area, for a total of 18 miles. The project is meant to serve the growing region and comply with federal standards.

Andy Wappler, Puget Sound Energy’s vice president of customer operations and communications, said the selection of Willow 1 was the result of community advisory feedback. He said it was clear that two concerns stood out: People want safety and they want to limit the impact to the environment. This option, he said, accomplishes both.

Through optimized designs, Wappler assured the project will be operated to the highest safety and engineering standards. He said there are new methods of configuring power lines in the air that allows them to cancel out or negate the electric magnetic field from other lines.

And when construction is done, the surrounding environment will have actually improved, he said.

“One reason why Willow 1 rose to the top, is because it enabled us to do construction work on what has historically been a power line corridor,” he said. “By staying on Willow 1, we minimize the impact, use the existing route and have the ability to plant more trees on that route than there are today.”

The project will also upgrade the existing four wooden pole towers to two steel poles, and two poles to one pole, which will be kept “as low as possible” at 80-100 feet from 55-65 feet.

But the very concerns Wappler said this route will address, are the same concerns community activist group CENSE (Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy) has about the project.

Don Marsh, president of CENSE, said while it seems logical to place the transmission lines along the already-established route, he said the problem is the corridor is only 100 feet wide and there are two petroleum pipelines that transmit 13 million gallons of high pressure oil each day. These pose potential issues to the safety of those who live near the corridor as well as the surrounding environment.

“Consider the danger of putting a much higher voltage closer to pipeline that are both 50 years old,” Marsh said. “It doesn’t pass the initial smell test there.”

Marsh said CENSE is concerned about accidents during construction, the corrosion of the Olympic’s pipelines from the electric fields emitted and the consequences if a transmission power line were to fall near the pipelines.

He said in the past five years, Bellevue and Kirkland have experienced downed transmission lines on a stormy night. In each case, 400 miles of pipeline had to be shutdown, he added.

“Both of these instances happened at 115,000 volts,” Marsh said, noting the new project will be double the voltage. “How long will the pipeline be safe before a breach?

“This really scares us a lot and we just don’t think the comparative risk – and what Puget Sound Energy is saying is their peak demand problem – it does not compare to the risk of people losing property and lives in a pipeline fire situation.”

Wappler said Bellevue has grown seven times since the existing power line was built approximately 55 years ago and in the last four years, about 10,000 new residents have come to Bellevue.

Projections by the Puget Sound Regional Council show the Eastside population will likely grow by another third and employment will grow by more than three-quarters over the next 25 years, Diann Strom with Puget Sound Energy said.

“We are doing a great job as a community on energy savings and conservation, but we’re simply growing faster than we’re saving,” Wappler said, adding that as the economy becomes stronger, the energy need will be greater.

Marsh and CENSE think there are better solutions to the growth problem, however.

“The best answer is modern technology solutions,” he said. “The great news is batteries have advanced so fast, prices have come down so quickly that batteries are a feasible solution to problems they say they have.”

Citing a few examples in which Tesla has made batteries for widespread energy use, Marsh believes accommodating Puget Sound Energy’s peak demand can be done with a special vanadium battery made by Uni Energy Technology in Mukilteo. The vanadium battery is “totally nonflammable” and has an unlimited lifespan. While it is a little more expensive and takes a little more than it gives, Marsh said using batteries will allow Puget Sound Energy to begin to reduce carbon emissions as well.

“I feel very confident batteries are going to be our solution,” Marsh said.

Wappler said Puget Sound Energy looked at many different potential solutions in 2014 with the use of batteries as one of those solutions. But in the Environmental Impact Statement process, led by the city of Bellevue, they determined the existing power line doesn’t have the ability to charge batteries to meet the community’s need, which he estimates would be energy from more than 300 shipping-container sized batteries.

“Even if you simply connected them to the existing power line, there’s not enough energy coming in to meet the Eastside’s need,” Wappler said, noting they have a small pilot project concerning batteries in Whatcom County.

Aside from the energy need, Wappler said there are new reliability standards from the federal government Puget Sound Energy needs to comply with. The standards require utilities to deliver power in situations where key components of the utilities’ system may not be available. This means if there’s a blackout, they need multiple backups and right now, Wappler said, “we can’t meet those reliability standards using a 50-year-old power line.”

Having completed the first phase of the Environmental Impact Statement in early 2016, Puget Sound Energy will soon submit permit applications for the southern portion of the project.

The utility plans to build the new Richards Creek substation in Bellevue and upgrade the transmission lines in south Bellevue, Newcastle and Renton by summer 2018. The project will be built in two construction phases to keep the existing transmission system serving customers. Once the southern portion is complete, Puget Sound Energy will begin work on the northern portion in Redmond and north Bellevue.

For more information, visit energizeeastside.com.

Energize Eastside will start in Redmond and end in Renton with a new substation in Bellevue. Map courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

Energize Eastside will start in Redmond and end in Renton with a new substation in Bellevue. Map courtesy of Puget Sound Energy