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Better Solutions for Eastside Energy

Energy generation and distribution technology is advancing at an amazing rate. Efficiency and conservation have kept energy demand on the Eastside flat in spite of rapid growth in both residential and businesses. Solar and wind generation coupled with battery storage are allowing utilities around the country to reduce the need for additional power plants and transmission lines. PSE should follow suit.

How does solar, wind, and batteries reduce the need for large transmission lines? Transmission lines carry power from generation sites far away. They must be built large enough to accommodate the peak load of everything served by that line, even if peaks only occur for a few hours per year. Batteries allow power sources to be distributed in small clusters, closer to where peak demand occurs. The batteries are slowly charged when demand is low, and supply power to the immediate vicinity during peak demand. That way the peak power load does not travel long distances through high voltage transmission lines.

Solar makes the scenario even better. The solar cells on your home and nearby business charge the batteries nearby. During the night or anytime you need extra power, you take it back from the local batteries. The energy you generate and use stays local and never needs to travel long distances on transmission lines. As a bonus, this avoids all that energy loss during transmission and voltage up-scaling and down-scaling.

So why is PSE ignoring these solutions and instead opting to build an old fashioned transmission line? Because they are guaranteed a 10% return on investment for expensive infrastructure. They don’t make as much money if they put batteries in the grid. Its a problem created by a private, opaque utility operating within our antiquated regulatory framework which. This encourages bad behavior by PSE.


Batteries are the answer to Energize Eastside

CENSE is sometimes asked why our non-profit organization promotes batteries as a viable alternative to PSE’s proposed 18-mile transmission line known as “Energize Eastside.”

The answer is simple. We like batteries because PSE likes batteries.

PSE has promised to shut down four coal power plants it operates in Colstrip, Montana. Those plants generate about one-third of the electricity PSE delivers to customers. After those plants are shuttered, what will replace that electricity?

PSE’s initial proposal was to build new power plants that burn natural gas to generate electricity. But Sierra Club and CENSE objected. The extraction and delivery of natural gas leaks methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Going from coal to natural gas is not a forward step to reduce climate change.

PSE found that the least expensive source of new electricity is solar panels. Wind turbines are also pretty cheap. But these sources aren’t always available. We still need electricity at times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Fortunately, modern batteries have grown in size and fallen in cost. Batteries can store excess electricity produced by wind and solar and then release it at night or during a windless day.

PSE has announced its plan to install a large battery in “an urban area” soon. If that battery were placed in PSE’s new substation near Richards Road in Bellevue, it would address two problems at the same time. The battery would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace the need for Energize Eastside.

Using batteries, PSE can benefit the environment, save thousands of valuable urban trees, preserve the beauty of Eastside neighborhoods, and reduce the risk of pipeline explosions. All for significantly lower cost to customers than the transmission line.

But there’s the rub. “Less cost for customers” means “less revenues for PSE.” Energize Eastside would increase PSE’s revenues by tens of millions of dollars annually for the next 40 years, paid for by higher electricity rates for all 1.1 million of PSE’s customers. Batteries do not provide a revenue stream of similar size.

So, PSE hesitates. The march of technology is inevitable and the outcome is obvious. But the dream of that extra revenue dies hard.