The public will get to weigh in Tuesday in Bellevue on the draft environmental review for a proposal to build new high-voltage power lines across the Eastside.

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Puget Sound Energy chose the name “EnergizeEastside” for its proposal to build 18 miles of new high-voltage power lines from Renton to Redmond, but the biggest jolt delivered so far has been to residents in five cities along the proposed route.

The utility says it needs the new 230-kilovolt transmission lines and a substation in Bellevue to meet the growing energy needs of anticipated office towers, workers and residents, particularly in downtown Bellevue and the Spring District. Officials project that energy demand could outstrip supply at peak periods by 2018, resulting in rolling blackouts, if the system’s capacity isn’t expanded. The new lines could be installed along the same corridor as the utility’s existing 115-kilovolt lines.

But critics, including a citizens group that has retained its own energy expert and a land-use attorney, say the utility’s estimates of need are overblown. They wonder if new technologies and increased conservation might meet some of the coming demand for more power.


Draft Environmental Review

Public hearing at 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. N.E., Bellevue

Comments may also be made through March 14 at:

Or mailed to:

City of Bellevue, Development Services Department, Attn: Heidi Bedwell, 450 110th Ave. N.E., Bellevue, WA 98004

Source: city of Bellevue

And they question the safety of installing hundreds of taller, metal poles above existing underground petroleum pipelines.

“Safety is my biggest concern. They’re going to be digging around aging pipelines that run past three schools and several parks,” said Christina Aron-Sycz, a member of the group Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy (CENSE).

PSE officials say the utility operates miles of natural-gas pipelines along other corridors and has experience doing maintenance on and around them, as well as an excellent safety record.

The petroleum pipeline that runs along much of the proposed EnergizeEastside route is run by Olympic Pipeline, which has made substantial safety upgrades since a devastating explosion in Bellingham killed three in 1999.

The public gets a chance to weigh in on the proposal Tuesday, as the city of Bellevue takes comments on the draft environmental review of the project’s first phase, which includes consideration of several alternatives. The second phase, which will include the detailed route, environmental impacts and possible mitigation, is expected to be completed in a year.

PSE’s recommended route mostly follows one of its existing transmission corridors, with new poles and wires replacing the old ones. But the utility is still considering alternate segments that would skirt the Somerset neighborhood in Bellevue and run through Factoria instead. The substation would be located adjacent to an existing one, northeast of the Interstates 90 and 405 interchange.

The $215 million estimated cost would be borne by all 1.1 million PSE customers.

The city of Bellevue is the lead agency for the environmental review. Nine miles of the proposed transmission line would run through its neighborhoods.

“As the area has grown, the load and demand for electricity has also grown. Our dual concerns are that we have the power necessary where the power is needed and that the impacts of the project are appropriately mitigated,” said Carol Helland, Bellevue land use director.

Growth projections for the Eastside show 59 percent more jobs by 2040 and 25 percent more people, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council, a planning and forecasting organization.

But the other cities through which the project would run — Renton, Newcastle, Kirkland and Redmond — have also held public hearings over the past week and will have to approve any permits for the new transmission lines within their jurisdictions.

Two weeks ago, the city of Newcastle slapped a moratorium on permit applications for new transmission lines and radio towers to give its Planning Commission time to review its utility codes.

Mayor Rich Crispo said he shares the concerns of some of his constituents who worry about the installation of 85- to 100-foot metal poles next to high-pressure jet fuel lines on a 100-foot right of way with houses along both sides.

“The safety of our residents is our number-one concern as council members,” he said. “These people are talking with a lot of emotion about what will happen to their houses, their lives.”

Crispo, a retired engineer, said PSE made its energy-demand projections before starting neighborhood outreach and a yearlong citizens advisory group review.

“When they started, they had already decided what their need was. We wish they’d come to us earlier and made the case for it,” Crispo said.

A consultant hired by CENSE challenged the utility’s projections of 2.4 percent annual growth in energy demand in the coming years. Richard Lauckhart said other PSE projections submitted to state and federal regulators for other purposes show growth of just 0.5 percent.

By way of comparison, Seattle City Light puts its annual overall demand growth at 0.5 percent through 2024. The national average is 1 percent.

“At 0.5 percent, they (PSE) won’t exceed their capacity to provide power with the current system until 2058,” said Lauckhart, a former vice president for power planning at what was Puget Sound Power and Light Company.

He also questioned PSE’s projections of outages by 2018 and said the company’s models of peak use in 2018 include a significant transmission of energy to Canada. If that transfer is removed from the model he said, the short-term need goes away.

“Do I think they should hold off planning until 2058? No, but we’ve got some time to see if there’s an alternative to the line they’re proposing now,” Lauckhart said.

PSE Vice President Andy Wappler said the 0.5 growth projection is for the utility’s entire, eight-county electrical service area and not just the Eastside, where much higher growth is anticipated.

Don Marsh, the president and co-founder of CENSE, said the utility isn’t adequately exploring new technologies or the energy-saving possibilities offered by increased conservation. He said several innovations adopted by California utilities could be explored, including a program that offers financial incentives to businesses that voluntarily reduce their electricity at times of peak demand.

“We’re really asking, ‘what is our energy future on the Eastside going to be?’ ” Marsh said.

A Bellevue neighborhood representative on the 25-member Citizen’s Advisory Group for the EnergizeEastside project, Robert Shay, became convinced of the need during the yearlong work sessions that included technical briefings, public hearings and debate over the best route of the new transmission lines.

“I can see the growth. I’ve lived here for 38 years. I know that we are going to need more power,” Shay said.