A major upgrade to the electric grid along the eastern shores of Lake Washington is facing public opposition.
Puget Sound Energy has plans to build a new substation and improve about 18 miles of existing transmission lines from Redmond to Renton. Cost estimates for the project range from $150-300 million.
A community group says it’s expensive and unnecessary.
Puget Sound Energy’s upgrade is called “Energize Eastside.” The utility says the population has grown 8-fold since the last major upgrade there more than 50 years ago.
Opponents have organized a group called CENSE, which stands for Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy. They say the costly upgrade would take out hundreds of mature trees to make room for the new lines. And they say it’s unnecessary because newer technologies such as batteries could be used instead to handle peak loads.
Bellevue resident David Schwartz is a CENSE board member. He says demand has actually flattened despite population growth, so the planned upgrade exceeds what’s necessary.
“And if it were necessary, there are a wide variety of modern, smart technologies available that would much better meet our needs – things like demand response, things like modern batteries,” Schwartz said.
CENSE accuses the utility of seeking to increase revenues for its Canadian and Australian owners.
But Energize Eastside spokeswoman Diann Strom says the last upgrade of the grid serving these growing communities was in the 1960s.
“Our motivation is to provide customers with reliable power. Right now the eastside is outgrowing the backbone of our transmission system. And it’s time for us to upgrade the system,” Strom said.
She says the utility has 5 studies confirming the need for the new project. Among their findings was the conclusion that batteries wouldn’t work because they would need to be too large and would still require new power lines.
CENSE says the technology is improving so quickly that those studies are outdated.
The group just surpassed a fundraising goal of $150,000 that it will use to provide expert testimony in hearings planned by the four cities where permits are required for the project to move forward.