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PSE's plan to 'Energize Eastside' looking at two possible routes through Renton
Due to an ever-growing demand for energy on the east side of Lake Washington, Puget Sound Energy this year announced its “Energize Eastside” initiative to bring new transmission lines to our side of the lake.
The new lines will drastically increase capacity over the current transmission lines, but the route the new lines will take has not yet been selected and residents from around the affected cities are being asked for their input on choosing their location through Renton, but residents are worried that the choice will pit neighbor against neighbor.
According to Andy Wappler, vice president of Corporate Affairs for PSE, the power supply on the Eastside has not been upgraded since the 1960s, when demand both for residential customers and businesses was much less than it is today.
As the population and economy grew, the transmission lines did not.
“Fast forward to today and we’re at a situation where the energy demand on the Eastside by 2017-2018 will exceed the capacity of the delivery system,” he said this week.
Specifically, the transmission lines presently handle 115 kilovolts (kV) and need to be able to deliver 230 kV.
Wappler said the upgrade is necessary to ensure that PSE can continue to reliably provide electricity in the future. Wappler likened the situation to someone towing a trailer that exceeds the truck’s towing capacity in that eventually it may lead to engine damage.
In this case, he said the possibility of “widespread outages increase.”
To address the issue, PSE plans to build a new set of transmission lines between its Talbot Hill and Sammammish substations (the Samammish Station is actually in Redmond), a total of 18 miles. Wappler said the two substations can handle 230 kV, but the lines between them max out at 155 kV, which will affect those along the lines.
“What we need is to be able to make a connection between Renton and Redmond,” he said. “This is really about bringing the power right to the Eastside where it’s really needed.”
To do so, PSE is proposing two basic paths between the stations, divided into 16 segments that can be connected in 19 different ways. According to Wappler, all scenarios are possible and are acceptable to the company.
“All of them work,” he said.
Of specific interest to Renton are the two possible paths that lead out of the Talbot Hill substation.
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 utilize above-ground transmission lines. Along the “M Route,” the current H-shaped wooden lines would be replaced with steel structures to hold the lines. According to Wappler, the current structures are about 70 feet tall. The new ones would most likely be between 90 and 100 feet on average.
Along the lake, the poles would range between 70 and 100 feet.
Members of the Community Advisory Group on the matter, however, are not thrilled with either route, but especially one along the lake.
“People are really speaking with one voice on this,” said CAG representative Darius Richards, a member of the Kennydale Neighborhood Association. “They really think this proposed L Route that goes along the lake is really flawed.”
Richards said his first thought when he saw that proposal was, “They’ve got to be kidding.”
But while Richards said “it makes more sense” to have the route along the current easement, his time on the CAG made him realize that PSE is trying to pit the two routes against each other.
“Pitting neighborhood against neighborhood is leaving a bad taste in our mouths,” he said. “There are other options for PSE to look into.”
Richards and others have questioned why the company is not proposing the lines be placed underground and called it a “very real solution” in the 21st century.
Wappler said that while most neighborhood distribution lines are being placed underground, putting a large-scale transmission line underground creates a different set of problems. Wappler described a process that involves concrete tunnels to house the lines with access points every so often and said while underground lines mean fewer outages from falling limbs during winter storms, summer heat more adversely affects lines underground and the lines are more difficult to access if something is wrong.
In addition, undergrounding lines is much more expensive. The cost of placing the lines above ground is between $5 million and $10 million per mile. To place them underground would cost between $15 million and $20 million per mile.
And, according to Wappler, because putting the lines underground would be considered an aesthetic choice made by the community, the cities would have to pay the difference between the two costs.
To help determine which routes are preferred, the Community Advisory Group has been created and is meeting. The group contains members of city staff as well as residents in the affected neighborhoods.
Wappler said the pubic process was “very important” and he hoped a consensus would be reached, but in the end the decision will be made by PSE.
The public process is scheduled to continue through 2014 with permitting to come after.
For more information, or to comment directly to PSE, visit www.energizeeastside.com.