Rapidly increasing electricity demand on the Eastside means it’s time for a major expansion of transmission lines, Puget Sound Energy announced Wednesday.
PSE expects that without installation of 230-kilovolt lines in the next few years — a project that could cost between $150 million and $290 million — demand could outpace the utility’s electric capacity by the end of 2017, increasing the chances of outages.
All 1.1 million of PSE’s customers will foot the bill for the expansion.
The project means neighborhoods in Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland and Renton will need to hash out where 18 miles of new transmission lines should be installed between existing substations in Renton and Redmond. A path created from 16 proposed segments will be discussed at public meetings and open houses throughout 2014 to gather community input.
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In announcing the project, PSE called the Eastside the fastest-growing region in the state, with Bellevue’s central-district population expected to grow by 275 percent by 2040 and Renton’s population expected to grow by more than 36 percent in the same period.
“The challenge really is that our Eastside has gone from being bedroom communities to now being a major center of employment and some of the fastest-growing cities in the state,” said Andy Wappler, PSE vice president of corporate affairs. “Gradually, as it’s become an urban area, it’s outgrown this level of service.”
The new transmission lines, which will increase electricity capacity in the region for the first time since the 1960s, could be installed along the same corridor as the utility’s existing 115-kilovolt lines. Those lines run through Factoria, the east side of Glendale Country Club, Shadowwood and Trails End before reaching the Redmond substation.
But PSE is also considering a more western-lying route that would run lines mostly along King County’s Eastside Railroad Corridor and major streets next to Interstate 405 before cutting across Kirkland’s South Rose Hill neighborhood to the Redmond substation.
Three potential PSE-owned sites for one new substation in Bellevue include property just north of Interstate 90 near Sunset Park, and two others near Highway 520 near 116th Avenue Northeast and 136th Avenue Northeast.
Either way, Wappler says he expects that most if not all the 115-kilovolt lines will stay in place as a supplement or backup source of electricity.
Construction of the new lines is a couple of years away. Wappler said PSE in 2014 will focus on community input and establishing the route. Then it will seek permits for the chosen corridor.
PSE said it will also take into account the recommendation of a community advisory group of representatives from businesses, property developers, school districts, tribes, environmental organizations, local government, residential organizations and social-service organizations. That group is to meet for the first time on Jan. 22.
PSE, which announced the expansion plans along with a
website, www.energizeeastside.com, dedicated to the project, is encouraging people to send in their questions and concerns online.
Officials are sure to hear from Deirdre Johnson, president of the South Rose Hill/Bridle Trails Neighborhood Association in Kirkland. Johnson, who had heard nothing about the proposal until it was announced Wednesday, said she’s surprised anyone would think of running the lines near Rose Hill Elementary School and Holy Family Parish School.
The project’s website says homes, endangered species and safety hazards were considered in proposing where to place the lines. But Johnson is worried that schools weren’t one of the top things considered.
“I’m kind of concerned we didn’t get any notification. I’m wondering when they were going to tell us and who they have already told,” said Johnson, who doesn’t think the lines need to run through Kirkland at all. “This is going to come down to political clout.”
Johnson said she would like to see PSE use paths Seattle City Light already uses, but Wappler said that option was already considered and did not work for both utilities’ needs. PSE said running lines underground isn’t preferable because installation is more expensive and repairs are more difficult to make when problems arise.
PSE said the new 230-kilovolt lines do not produce a significant amount of noise because improvements over the years have minimized noise levels. Instead of installing the H-shaped wooden poles holding up Eastside transmission lines now, PSE will erect taller, single steel towers set farther apart to hold the new lines.
PSE expects to finish designs and permits for the corridor by the end of 2016 so it can start construction in 2017.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or email@example.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.