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PSE may build new station for reliability

The island needs more power as it nears its electrical capacity, officials say.

By CHAD SCHUSTER

Staff Writer

They come a few times each winter, with a flicker followed by a flood of black. Then generators hum and candles push back the darkness while islanders wonder when electricity will return.

The converse is now true for planners at Puget Sound Energy who, having bid adieu to another storm season, are now wondering how much longer Bainbridge can sustain itself on the current power grid.

“We have capacity limitations on the island,” PSE planner Kebede Jimma told attendees at Wednesday’s Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Wing Point Golf and Country Club. “And we need to do something about it.”

In the face of growing population and usage, the company is in the earliest stages of planning for a new substation that, in addition to other improvements, would buttress the island’s power supply and lessen the reach and duration of some power outages.

Without the changes, the island could reach its capacity for usage in the next five years. PSE would spend between $5 million and $7 million on the station. Three substations power the island now, at Port Madison, Murden Cove and Winslow.

The new station would be completed in 2010 or 2011 on a still undetermined piece of land between the Murden Cove substation on Sportsman Club Road and the Winslow substation on Bucklin Hill Road.

Jimma said the company likely will include money for the project in its 2008 budget, with construction set to begin in 2010. The process would include city and community involvement.

Along with the substation, PSE also is considering a new “transmission loop” that would make the island’s grid more flexible and reliable during outages.

“You can only make so many tweaks without making long-term capacity improvements,” said Linda Streissguth, of PSE. “At some point, you run out of options.”

The city, meanwhile, has its own plans for improving electric service on the island. Foremost, according to City Council member Debbie Vancil, should be energy conservation.

That means working cooperatively with the park, fire and school districts, along with other local entities, to save energy.

Vancil said she recognizes the need for a new substation in the near future, but would like to stall those plans by a few years so the city can continue to push for better conservation.

“Puget Sound Energy has said this would reduce some forms of power outages, but not all,” she said. “Expansions should occur in tandem with community values.”

Substation or not, the city is pursuing ways to move overhead power lines underground in some areas. The Public Works and Transportation Committee has been crafting policy alternatives for the plan, and will make a recommendation to the council sometime after its next meeting on April 30.

Vancil said she favors a joint effort between the city and PSE that would allow planners to target certain corridors for underground power. Then, when it came time for other street improvements at those locations, the transition would be made.

Streissguth said that underground power is in many cases less prone to outage, but outages still occur, and they typically take longer to repair than those that involve overhead wires. Money is also a major issue, with underground power costing “several million dollars per mile,” she said.

Past ideas for bettering the local power supply have included a second transmission line.

The company some years ago studied the idea of building a submarine cable to the island from Illahee, but the price tag – estimated between $50 million and $80 million – derailed those plans.

Streissguth said a second line, likely another aerial connection from the north, will come at some point, though there are no plans for that as of now.

Along with improving infrastructure, PSE also plans to revamp the way it prepares for and responds to major storms, like the one in December that knocked out power for more than 700,000 of its customers.

The company is now studying ways to improve communication and tree trimming practices.

As the strain on the power supply grows, Streissguth said decisions about the substation need to be made quickly.

“We’re not just going to go out and build without talking to the community,” she said. “But it’s time to start having this conversation.”

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