In late April, a battle that has dragged on for eight years ended abruptly when a Hearing Examiner engaged by the City of Newcastle approved a land use permit for the South Segment of Puget Sound Energy’s “Energize Eastside” project. If you live in Renton or Bellevue, you may have noticed work crews cutting down trees as the company prepares to install taller steel poles to carry very high voltages (230,000 volts) through our neighborhoods. CENSE and residents remain concerned about the impacts on our neighborhood, safety issues, and intrusive construction.
How did this happen?
PSE used a “divide and conquer” strategy, seeking approval for Energize Eastside one city at a time over many years. Normally, a regional project could be approved by a state agency in a single year. Cities do not have electrical engineering professionals on staff and fear legal or financial repercussions from PSE if they do not approve the project.
CENSE had to carefully manage our limited resources to engage experts and legal representation for the Newcastle hearing. We showed conclusively that PSE has not provided data on Eastside electricity consumption – a central question regarding the need for the project. Our experts testified that modern alternatives like batteries and demand response would preserve trees, deliver better year-round reliability, and help meet Washington’s clean energy goals for less total cost.
However, the Hearing Examiner either dismissed our evidence or claimed he didn’t have authority to consider it. While we believe his conclusion is legally incorrect, we recognize a court appeal would be expensive with no guarantee of success.
What did CENSE accomplish?
Over the past eight years, CENSE has exposed PSE’s lack of transparency and accountability, as well as a disturbing lack of regulatory authority at the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.
CENSE maintained our focus on safety, asking the Hearing Examiner to reconsider a clerical error in his decision that would allow PSE to skip an important safety review by the Olympic Pipeline Company. CENSE supports PSE’s aspirational promise, “Safety is our top priority.” Unfortunately, the Hearing Examiner clarified his decision by removing any requirement for safety certification from Olympic. We can now only hope that our homes and loved ones will not be injured as a result of this shortsighted decision.
Later this year, Bellevue and Redmond will hold land use hearings for the North Segment of the project. If successful, PSE would install new poles in Lake Hills, Bridle Trails, and Redmond. CENSE will continue to ask for proof that the project is needed and that safe and attractive alternatives be fairly considered.
Although CENSE always knew it was in a David vs. Goliath battle with PSE, we hoped facts and credible experts could prevail. We have come to understand that the existing approval process makes it practically impossible for citizens to ask reasonable questions or propose alternative solutions when a multi-billion-dollar corporation is heavily invested in its preferred solution.
We see only one plausible solution: change our electricity provider. As you may have heard, there is a campaign to replace PSE with a public utility that is directly accountable to voters. Although the original schedule has been delayed by the pandemic, the initiative has been retargeted for 2023 or 2024. The Tribal Council of the Snoqualmie Tribe recently endorsed the effort, which could ultimately lead to removal of PSE’s dam on the Snoqualmie River. For more information, please see ekc-pud.org.
Challenging the North Segment
CENSE is looking for a few new board members, especially residents living in Bellevue’s Lake Hills or Bridle Trails neighborhoods or Redmond. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to [email protected].