Neighbors voice concerns about Energize Eastside
May 1, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
UPDATED — 9:45 p.m. May 1, 2014
*This story has been updated to reflect the following change: The initial version, and the one seen in the May 2 print edition, stated that Larry Johnson and the Olympus Homeowners Association would get a chance to give their own presentation about Energize Eastside at the May 6 Newcastle City Council. That has now been rescheduled for a later date to be determined*
Upgrades to infrastructure needed
When Newcastle neighbors Larry Johnson and Dave Edmonds peer into the backyards of their Olympus homes, transmission lines and power poles greet them.
It’s not the best view, but residents have learned to live with the 60-foot beams that carry 115 kilovolt power lines. The infrastructure has been there since long before the city was incorporated 20 years ago.
Those poles could get a lot taller, with lines that carry even more power, if Puget Sound Energy upgrades that corridor as part of its Energize Eastside project.
“What we have now is not great,” Edmonds said. “We’ve got power line poles 30 feet from people’s homes. We want something better than what we have, not worse.”
The project will bring higher capacity electric transmission lines to the Eastside, Andy Wappler, PSE’s vice president of corporate affairs, explained in an April 1 presentation to the Newcastle City Council.
The exact route the lines will take is yet undecided. Proposed path Route M goes through Newcastle.
The region’s growth is straining the transmission system, Wappler said; by 2017 or 2018, demand for power will exceed capacity, making power outages more likely.
“It’s really like any kind of machine — if you’re running it past its capacity, if you’re running it hard day after day, it begins to have problems,” he said.
Newcastle is expected to grow by about 2,500 people within the next few decades, essentially doubling its population at incorporation, Wappler said.
Conservation is not enough of a remedy; significant infrastructure upgrades to a system that hasn’t been enhanced since the 1960s are also necessary, he said.
PSE’s solution is building about 18 miles of 230 kilovolt transmission lines from Redmond to Renton. That corridor west of Lake Sammamish is where the demands of the electric system are heaviest, according to PSE.
There are 16 route segments that can be configured in 19 ways.
Any that connect the north to the south “gets the job done,” Wappler said, adding that PSE doesn’t have a preferred route, just a preferred outcome — that the company keeps delivering reliable power.
Route M through Newcastle is from Southeast 95th Way to Newcastle Way, west of the Eden’s Grove subdivision and east of the Olympus and Hazelwood communities.
In the most well-attended Newcastle City Council meeting in the past two years, about 50 neighbors packed City Hall to voice their concerns about the project April 1.
They asked questions and many expressed misgivings about high-voltage power lines through their community.
A petition to the council, by a local coalition of neighbors dubbed Citizens for Sane Eastside Energy, outlined their main concerns, among them health issues, property values, safety and view obstruction.
There was debate at the meeting between residents and PSE representatives about the true nature of health concerns related to the electromagnetic fields connected to high-voltage lines.
Wappler said nearly 3,000 studies show no conclusive link between electromagnetic fields and health issues.
But Johnson pointed to a 2002 California Department of Health Services study that notes electromagnetic fields could cause cancer.
“Are we going to be the guinea pigs to find out if this is true or not?” Johnson asked.
On the web
Neighbors are also concerned about the affect the lines will have on property values and aesthetics.
“I really take offense when people say, ‘Oh it’s just because you don’t want it in your backyard,’” Johnson said in an April 13 interview. “I think that’s a legitimate thing. No one wants it in their backyard.”
A consideration unique to Newcastle residents is the gas pipeline along the corridor.
Edmonds, who represents the Olympus neighborhood on PSE’s Community Advisory Group about the project, said the Olympic Pipe Line Co., based on his correspondence with the company, also has concerns about Route M, regarding building along lines that supply jet fuel to SeaTac Airport.
Wappler said PSE has worked with Olympic, and understands the concerns, given that PSE had the same worries as construction along the Alaskan Way viaduct occurs along its own pipeline.
One of the community’s requested alternatives is underground power lines.
Underground lines limit the visual impact, but are far more costly than overhead lines, Wappler said.
PSE estimates the construction and engineering for underground lines is about $20 million to $28 million per mile, compared to $3 million to $4 million per mile for overhead lines.
Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission regulations require the local jurisdiction or customer group requesting underground transmission lines to pay the difference between overhead and underground costs.
“At a minimum of $22 million a mile, that’s just not possible,” Edmonds said.
Citizens for Sane Eastside Energy is looking into challenging the regulation.
Residents also wonder why PSE can’t just use an existing Seattle City Light corridor from Redmond to Renton. Rebuilt, it could accommodate the Eastside’s growing power needs. But PSE doesn’t own the corridor, and Seattle City Light has told the company it is not available for its use.
However, neighbors are skeptical, Johnson said, because PSE cannot provide written documentation from Seattle City Light. The Seattle company has declined to do so when asked, Wappler said at an April 21 public forum.
Not all of the estimated 50 Olympus homes affected are united in opposing the project, Edmonds said.
It’s a stark contrast to those along Route L, a segment along Lake Washington, who have been very vocal in their opposition.
“If people in M don’t oppose it, whereas people in L are throwing every piece of garbage they have, we are going to get it by default, because they’ll say, ‘Well, Olympus doesn’t care,’” Johnson said.
The Olympus Homeowners Association board recently expressed its worry, saying the “Olympus neighborhood is very concerned over the potential expansion of PSE capacity through Newcastle without better understanding the alternatives.”
Edmonds thinks PSE will choose Route M. Johnson said he isn’t ready to surrender.
“When I talk to people from L and Somerset, and I hear what they say, they’re almost totally convinced that it’s going to happen through their neighborhoods,” Johnson said.
PSE is using this year to gather public comment about the project, while its Community Advisory Group, made up of citizens and civic groups, collects information to recommend a route.
PSE doesn’t anticipate filing for any permits until early 2015.
“We want to work with the community and get as much input as we can, but ultimately, in terms of choosing the route, we have the responsibility to deliver the energy, so we will ultimately have to choose where that route goes,” Wappler said at the council meeting.
After Wappler gave his presentation April 1, Johnson asked the council if he could give one of his own about citizen concerns over the project.
*Johnson and the Olympus Homeowners Association will get that opportunity at a yet-to-be-determined Newcastle City Council meeting. The group was set to present at the May 6 meeting, but the homeowners group requested to delay the presentation in order to continue their due diligence in collecting information about the Energize Eastside project, Newcastle Public Works Director Mark Rigos said in an email.
“My chief goal for May 6 is to pry loose any notion among City Council members and our neighbors that they simply can take PSE’s word for things,” Johnson said prior to the date change.