Energize Eastside concerns shared
July 31, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Energize Eastside was back on the Newcastle City Council agenda for the first time since Puget Sound Energy introduced the project April 1.
But this time, it was a pair of resident groups who had the opportunity to voice their concerns about the plan to bring new, higher capacity electric transmission lines to the Eastside in response to the region’s growing power demands.
The Olympus Homeowners Association and the Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy countered PSE’s proposal and questioned the project’s true requirement at the July 1 and 15 City Council meetings.
Keith Hargis, president of the Olympus Homeowners Association, detailed his community’s concerns, while more than 50 neighbors sat in the audience of the council chambers July 1.
Hargis highlighted health, safety, easement, pipeline and aesthetic concerns with the proposed installation of 230 kilovolt transmission lines along Route M, which goes through Newcastle, and more specifically, the Olympus neighborhood.
Along the same corridor sits a gas pipeline that supplies jet fuel to SeaTac Airport, and neighbors are worried that construction along it could lead to a disastrous accident, Hargis said.
He mentioned the 1999 Bellingham pipeline explosion that caused about $45 million in property damages and killed three people.
“I think for us that are living along that corridor, we’re very concerned with anything that could happen that’s even close to this kind of magnitude of an event,” he said.
Installation of the taller transmission poles would not only affect Olympus residents that live directly on the corridor, Hargis added, but it would also block views for neighbors, and would cause a visual blight for other parts of the city, including the views from The Golf Club at Newcastle.
The all-volunteer group of residents from affected cities, Coalition for Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy, raised questions about the PSE project’s necessity at the July 15 City Council meeting.
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“Our belief is that what they’re proposing shouldn’t be in anybody’s neighborhoods,” said CENSE co-founder Steve O’Donnell.
O’Donnell and CENSE co-founder Don Marsh, raised doubts about the true magnitude of the need, based on PSE’s power demand forecasts.
Marsh pointed specifically to PSE’s “Eastside Customer Demand Forecast” graph, which shows that by 2017 or 2018, demand for power will exceed capacity. The graphic, which is shown at PSE’s public meetings and can be found on its project website, is fiction, he argued.
O’Donnell and Marsh challenged PSE’s projections that electricity demand is growing at an annual rate of 2 percent. Marsh said that demand has actually been flat or declining, both on the Eastside and nationally, for at least the past six years, even with population growth.
He added that a Bellevue study anticipates a rate of growth that is less than half of PSE’s projections.
O’Donnell said he acknowledged the need for PSE to provide reliable power, but argued, “there are better ways to do it than industrially blight our neighborhoods.”
To that end, Marsh offered several alternatives to PSE’s proposed solution, including time-of-day pricing, which would encourage residents to conserve by using electricity at off-peak hours for a discount.
He also mentioned that grid batteries are being used for projects in major cities across the nation, and noted that Tesla’s Elon Musk and Segway inventor Dean Kamen are both working on residential batteries that will lessen the need for transmission lines.
The group ultimately asked the Newcastle City Council to work with other cities and hire an independent expert to evaluate the project. Both CENSE and the Olympus Homeowners Association also encouraged council members to keep citizens up to date about any Energize Eastside developments.
“If there’s one conclusion I’ve drawn from the process, it’s that we need your help, because this process is stacked to the outcome that PSE wants,” Newcastle resident Sean McNamara pleaded to council members July 1. “So, please do what you’re all in those seats to do and protect Newcastle as a phenomenal place to live.”
Newcastle Mayor Steve Buri said the City Council has been thoughtful in its consideration of the project. He also said Energize Eastside is a “front-burner issue” for the city.
“It’s easy to be loud,” Buri added, but the Newcastle City Council is choosing to be strategic and methodical in its approach to the situation.
The city is in regular communications with the other affected municipalities, Buri said. City Manager Rob Wyman also noted that there is a lot more going on at the staff level behind the scenes, as cities decide how to approach the issue.