Energize Eastside Public Hearing Proceedings

The Public Hearing was scheduled for 6 PM to 10 PM on Thursday, March 28th, 2019. Because of the many members of the public that wanted to speak, the hearing was continued into Friday. It ended up taking the entire day, from 10 AM to 5 PM, and continued for a full day Wednesday April 3rd. There is a final session on Monday April 8th for closing arguments. The public is welcome to attend on Monday but public comments will not be heard.

Following is a summary of the proceedings.

Day One: Thursday March 28th 2019

First, the City of Bellevue spoke for about half an hour, saying that PSE filed their permit in accordance with Bellevue’s policies and land use codes.

Next, PSE spoke for about 90 minutes. They shortened their presentation, electing to talk about pipeline safety and construction concerns today instead. The most interesting part of their presentation for me is that the company has abandoned its winter reliability scenario. They are now focused on summer overloads, which is a huge right turn in the middle of their project application. CENSE will have some things to say about that today.

Next, citizens were allowed to speak for about 30 minutes. The majority of the citizens were representatives of downtown businesses and civic organizations that PSE had recruited to support the project. None had any technical observations, they just want reliable electricity, and PSE says they will suffer blackouts if Energize Eastside is not built.

CENSE took 30 minutes to present two experts. Robert McCullough, a nationally known energy expert, said electricity consumption has changed dramatically since PSE started this project. “It’s not their fault, and they aren’t evil, but this is happening to utilities across the country due to technology changes, like LED lights.” He concluded that PSE can’t continue with such an expensive project using 5-year-old forecasts.

Another expert, Dean Apostol, said that PSE’s analysis of the aesthetic impacts of the project was incorrect. They limited the analysis to 1/4 mile away from the lines, and he said these poles and wires would be noticeable up to 3 miles away. “People in downtown Bellevue will look out and see transmission lines where they can’t see any now,” he said.

After CENSE experts finished, more citizens spoke. The Examiner allowed people to speak who couldn’t attend a second day. By this late in the evening, many of the business people had left, so there was more testimony from residents. One man described what happened when a downed transmission line blew up parts of his house, causing $40,000 worth of damage. He was outside on wet ground at the time. If he hadn’t been wearing heavy rubber boots, he might not have survived that incident.

Day Two: Friday March 29th 2019

On the second day of the Energize Eastside Public Hearing, two experts testified for PSE regarding the safety of the project and the high-pressure petroleum pipelines that share the corridor. One expert focused on construction questions, while the other described a technical report he had authored regarding the potential for electric fields to accelerate corrosion of the pipeline.

These testimonies did little to dispel concerns that the Olympic Pipeline Company did not appear at the hearing and has not publicly accepted responsibility for all the safety impacts of PSE’s project. If there is an accident during the construction or operation of these transmission lines, will Olympic compensate for the death and destruction that might occur? Will there be years of lawsuits and finger-pointing, while victims wait for determinations of fault to be resolved? Nobody knows.

Another PSE expert countered CENSE expert Dean Apostol regarding the view impacts of the project. Apostol said previous reports had erred by limiting analysis of the aesthetic impact to only ¼ mile from the line. He said that the poles and wires at the proposed height would be visible from 3 miles away. PSE’s expert said the narrower analysis was reasonable because visibility is different from obnoxious impact. He further opined that the lines would be less offensive than previously stated. In his opinion, the “linear nature” of the project would harmonize with the landscape and would be more pleasing than if you arranged the poles and wires randomly. (WHAT?!?) He also said the higher poles would move the wires out of the view of some properties, so it’s not all bad. He failed to mention that the higher poles would impact homes higher up the hill.

A citizen who testified later said he couldn’t believe that no one had showed a simulation of how views of Somerset would appear from other places in the city. His comments were a triumph for common sense over the strange theories offered by PSE’s expert.

Testimony from CENSE and CSEE (Citizens for Sane Eastside Energy) was allowed after lunch. CENSE president Don Marsh questioned why PSE has abandoned its prior justification for the project, a rare emergency scenario that might only occur during a very cold winter morning or evening. Apparently, that is no longer a valid scenario to justify Energize Eastside. PSE now says they are worried about the summer instead. PSE showed a graph with some cherry-picked data that hinted at growth in summer peaks, but there is an uncomfortable fact for the company. Bellevue’s independent analyst concluded in 2015 that there would be NO SUMMER OVERLOADS if PSE weren’t simultaneously helping to deliver enormous quantities of Canadian electricity to California. Those transfers are over five times the amount of electricity the Eastside uses during its summer peak, and they are not mandatory.

Apparently, this testimony and the testimony provided the first day by CENSE expert Robert McCullough impressed the Hearing Examiner. At the end of the day, he asked PSE a question that probably shocked the company. “What would it take for PSE to change its mind about Energize Eastside and think it is no longer needed? What kind of information would make that happen, where you’d slap your forehead and say, ‘Hey, we no longer need this’?” After a pregnant pause, PSE answered that they would have to see real, sustained reductions in load, and they aren’t seeing that. (We suggest they open their eyes!)

Rick Aramburu, the attorney for CENSE, told the judge that Bellevue’s Land Use Code is unusual in its requirements for siting or upgrading electric facilities like Energize Eastside. The code requires the applicant to prove the need for the project. By way of contrast, a developer doesn’t have to justify need to build an office or a department store. Furthermore, the code requires the applicant to avoid residential areas unless it is shown that the impact would be even worse in commercial or industrial districts. And that’s not just a transmission line, but other alternative technologies. Aramburu said these codes were developed specifically to reign in a private monopoly that doesn’t have to worry about the financial wisdom of their projects, because their customers pay the cost whether a project is prudent or not. It’s an attempt to introduce a level of introspection that was previously missing from the equation.

CSEE expert Rich Lauckhart, former VP of Power Planning for PSE, testified that PSE is trying to “gold-plate” the grid, far exceeding federal reliability requirements. He said that although there are many ways the company can improve reliability, there is no way to GUARANTEE there won’t be power outages without incurring unacceptable costs and environmental impacts. If you want guaranteed power, you must buy a generator or a battery, like hospitals use to maintain their service.

The steady stream of businesses and civic organizations that PSE encouraged to testify on Thursday evening abated on Friday. The public comments came mostly from sincere and well-informed residents who were incredulous that such an expensive and damaging project could proceed this far on flimsy evidence and an expensive marketing campaign. They remained hopeful that facts and justice would prevail. Truly, this would be an open and shut case if it weren’t for the support of the city’s staff, who said that PSE has done everything right and Energize Eastside is a desirable project for the city.

To our considerable disappointment, Bellevue is siding with a foreign-owned, profit-driven corporation against the safety of its residents, preservation of our beautiful neighborhoods, and the requirements of Bellevue’s Land Use Code. The city’s position is the most difficult thing for us to understand.

Many thanks to all the residents who came to either or both days of the hearing. Your presence was valuable. Indeed, the number of people wanting to speak was the reason a second day was needed, and day two was really our day.

Day Three: Wednesday April 3 2019

The third day of the hearing was reserved for PSE’s rebuttal of testimony provided by CENSE experts and the public. But at the outset, the Hearing Examiner said he had questions which he would ask experts on both sides.

PSE’s rebuttal started with an explanation that the Eastside grid is already stressed in the summer, when higher operating temperatures reduce the capacity of the company’s equipment. PSE says demand is growing because summers are getting hotter and customers are installing a lot of air conditioners. PSE found a typo in a graph by CENSE expert Robert McCullough, claiming it invalidated his conclusion that summer loads are not growing. McCullough corrected his graph during the lunch break and said none of his conclusions were changed because of the typo. He also observed that air conditioners have become much more efficient. Improving efficiency of all our devices and appliances explains why demand for electricity is falling, contrary to PSE’s claim.

PSE also disparaged the analysis of Richard Lauckhart, the former VP of Power Planning at the company. They said he analyzed only one scenario, and they had analyzed thousands. Lauckhart responded that he studied the worst-case scenario that PSE uses to justify Energize Eastside. He didn’t need to look at thousands of other cases, just as other experts like Utility System Efficiencies and Stantech had not done exhaustive analysis. Disproving the worst case is sufficient.

There was a lot of discussion about a major new substation Seattle just completed to serve the South Lake Union district. PSE says it shows that infrastructure investments are needed. CENSE says it demonstrates how infrastructure should be located near where the need is (big commercial consumers). We think big businesses should shoulder a larger portion of the cost of these projects, if they are the reason the investments are needed.

The judge asked PSE if they would make a lot of money on this project. PSE replied that the company has a fixed capital improvement budget. If they don’t spend $300 million on Energize Eastside, PSE will just spend that money on the next project in priority order. Canceling the project will not reduce anyone’s electric bill. However, there are projects that might improve reliability more effectively than Energize Eastside, so cancellation would still be in the best interest of customers.

The hearings will continue into a fourth day (Monday, April 8, 10 am) for closing arguments from lawyers representing PSE, CENSE, and CSEE. We initially thought the hearing would be just four hours on Thursday evening. Instead, it is taking four DAYS for PSE to rebut the strong testimony we have provided. If PSE could have dismissed our concerns on the first night, that would have been the company’s preferred outcome.

Day Four: Monday April 8 2019

The final day was for closing arguments by the legal team. Legal teams for CENSE, CSEE, and PSE responded to testimony and documents submitted during the hearing.

CENSE attorney Rick Aramburu lead off with a focus on PSE’s violation of Land Use Code 20.20.255. He drew attention to the 2008 addition which added more precise guidelines to reign in PSE’s expansion of electrical utility facilities into residential land use zones. He stressed this LUC states that “need” must be a requirement; Alternatives must be considered, with a nexus to the project. The project should be located in the zone that needs facility. He emphasized the hierarchy of choices with residential as the last choice.

Rick Aramburu also talked about the profit motive of PSE, and the lack of load data for Bellevue.

CSEE attorney Larry Johnson spoke about the Seattle City Light route option. He also pointed out that no one from Olympic Pipeline showed up to speak on safety. He closed with slides of the Bellingham explosion and the photos of the boys who died.

The Bellevue City representative spent 40 minutes recapping their position. They accept PSE’s application 100% and see no significant Land Use Code violations. PSE says they need it so all is good with them!

Rick and Larry each had only 15 minutes each. The City of Bellevue took 40 min and PSE got 1 hour.

Hearing Examiner Gary McLean said the record is huge – 12,000 pages to review so it will take him until at least mid May to answer. He will advise then if he needs more time. He complimented all parties to their professionalism in a holding a civil hearing with respect to all parties. Overall McLean listened, showed genuine interest, and asked some great questions.

What’s Next?

A decision by Hearing Examiner Gary McLean will be made sometime after mid May, followed by an appeal to the Bellevue City Council and probably the courts. This process will be repeated in Newcastle and Renton.

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