This summer, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) will build a new substation on the Redmond side of Bel-Red Road in the Overlake neighborhood and nearby residents and business people have mixed reviews of PSE’s plans.
PSE spokesperson Gretchen Aliabadi said another substation is needed because the three existing ones in Overlake are running at almost full capacity.
“People plug a lot of things in,” she said. “We use a lot of power. We love our electronics.”
The new Ardmore substation will address this and accommodate growth and development in the area.
The new substation will be northeast of PSE’s Interlaken substation, which is in the opposite corner of the same block.
Aliabadi said once the new substation is built, Interlaken will be decommissioned and a transformer will be moved to Ardmore — doubling the new station’s load in comparison to Interlaken. She added that two more transformers can be put in if needed, for a total of four.
Aliabadi explained that transformers step up an electrical current’s voltage so it can travel from one point to another and then step down the voltage so the current can enter homes and businesses without blowing a fuse. A substation is one location where this voltage change occurs.
While Ardmore increases PSE’s electrical load capacity, the new station will do so without expanding the company’s footprint. Aliabadi said PSE will tap into the area’s existing transmission lines and actually remove some lines. The line feeding into Interlaken will be rerouted to Ardmore in addition to two other lines in the area (see below).
“This is an efficient use of the infrastructure that we have,” Aliabadi said.
She added that with multiple transmission lines feeding into the substation, PSE will also be able to offer customers more reliable service.
For example if one line goes down — whether it is scheduled or unscheduled — PSE can switch lines and use electricity from another line.
Aliabadi said PSE had been looking for a site for a new substation in Overlake for four years, considering a number of locations before purchasing the bank location in December 2009. The bank building was torn down a year later in December 2010.
Steven Fischer, principal planner for the City of Redmond, said PSE first approached them about the new substation a little more than a year ago. Between then and November 2010 — when PSE applied for a conditional use permit for the substation — the city and PSE worked closely together. The city and PSE continued working together until they presented to Redmond City Council on April 19. The council approved the permit with an unanimous vote.
But before council approval, the permit went through a process that included being reviewed by a technical committee comprised of city staff from various departments and disciplines. According to its report, the committee’s job was to analyze the project application for city code and regulation compliance. Afterwards, the committee offered a recommendation to a hearing examiner to approve the proposal.
Following the committee’s approval, the hearing examiner held a public hearing on Feb. 14 to review the committee’s report as well as receive public input on the new substation.
Throughout the planning process, PSE has welcomed input from the surrounding community — specifically Belmore Homeowners Association and Sherwood Forest Community Club, the two residential communities closest to the substation location, on the other side of Bel-Red Road in Bellevue.
Mike Koenig, association president for Belmore, said they heard about the new station before the current location was selected. PSE approached him and his counterparts at Sherwood to help the company review a list of possible locations for a new substation. The initial list did not contain anywhere Koenig and Ken Schiring, a trustee for Sherwood Forest, thought would work, so PSE returned to the drawing board to come up with the current location, which both communities thought was appropriate.
“This was by far the best choice,” Koenig said.
He said Ardmore is located in the neighborhood it will be serving. And since it is in the same block as Interlaken — the substation it is replacing — Koenig said the impact will be minimal in comparison to the other choices, which included a location on the main Microsoft Corporation campus as well as one near a preschool.
Schiring said in addition to asking for the community’s input, PSE has done a good job of keeping them informed, holding three open houses and public meetings throughout the process.
“PSE has been really good with members,” he said.
Although Koenig and Schiring approve of the new substation’s location, not everyone is thrilled.
Tim Lewars, manager of Bassett Furniture, said the reaction among him and the rest of his store was “less than favorable.”
“As a retail location we prefer retail establishments around us,” he said. “An electric substation certainly doesn’t attract consumers to the area.”
Lewars, who has managed Bassett for three years, said PSE was very up front about the project, giving them the name of the project manager as well as dates and timeframes for the bank demolition, public hearings and other events. Despite this and being less than thrilled with the incoming substation, Lewars said he has not contacted anyone about the project.
Larry Corpuz, manager of Derek’s Auto Detail and Hand Car Wash, also thought the chosen location was inappropriate, adding that some people may consider a substation an “architectural eyesore.”
“I just thought it was a weird place for (a substation) to be,” he said. “…This is a nice area right around here.”
But from what Corpuz has heard from the construction manager for the site, they are taking steps with landscaping to make the location look nice.
Fischer said the owner of the building Derek’s is located in was also in a property dispute with PSE.
According to the city’s technical committee report, the city received a letter stating that the property owner “obtained a portion of the proposed Ardmore substation site through adverse possession and that they have not authorized Puget Sound Energy to pursue this project.”
Fischer said this issue could be resolved through court action, but they haven’t heard of any action taken.
There have also been concerns about electromagnetic fields (EMF) produced by the new substation.
Aliabadi said whenever PSE builds a new station, there are always concerns and that they work with experts to ensure they meet all health and safety requirements. When it comes to EMF, she said people need to get educated and get their information from more than one source.
PSE relies on information from the International Commission of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the topic of EMF.
“We look to their studies,” Aliabadi said. “That’s who we have to look to.”
She said as of right now, there have been no conclusions about whether EMF have health consequences, adding that EMF are created whenever a current is running. From a computer or television to a hair dryer or washing machine — “anything that has a current flowing.”
“There’s no standard in the state, county, the nation,” Fischer said about EMF causing health problems. “There’s nothing that is conclusive one way or another.”