Bainbridge community members move to reduce islanders' peak-energy consumption

The new substation would be similar to the substation at Day Road.  - Brad Camp/ Staff Photo
The new substation would be similar to the substation at Day Road.
— image credit: Brad Camp/ Staff Photo

All-island energy reduction effort needed to delay plans for 25 mVA substation, activists say. Community energy meeting slated for next week.

On Monday, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) representatives spoke to members of the public about the need for a new substation on Bainbridge Island.

The centralized 25 mVA station would help the island's power grid cope with the winter peak energy demand that is quickly approaching its maximum load level.

But according to PSE, there is still a chance to delay the project, and they hope islanders can make it happen.

"Energy efficiency is our first choice," said Gretchen Aliabadi, a PSE spokesperson. "If we don't have to spend $4 to $5 million on a substation and still provide safe, reliable energy we would choose that – it saves everyone money."

If islanders can reduce their peak demand, the substation may not have to be built at all. It is a chance that energy-reduction advocates are putting their weight behind.

"The utility has given us an opportunity," said Joe Deets, executive director of Community Energy Solutions "It's a narrow one, but if we do nothing, we will miss this chance."

Deets' sentiments are backed by a number of Bainbridge churches, businesses and nonprofits, who aren't wasting time organizing.

Next Thursday, a community energy meeting has been set to present the issue, decide on goals and actions, and commission a task force that would create the tools for significant reductions in peak energy demand.

"We need to carry the momentum and grab the community before we forget," said City Council member Hilary Franz. "The need to reduce our energy use by a substantial amount should be happening immediately."

According to PSE's estimates, islanders would need to reduce peak demand by roughly 2 mW annually. If all island PSE customers participated in a reduction plan, each would have to reduce their energy consumption by about 4 percent during peak load times.

However, meeting the target reduction rate isn't as simple as using energy efficient devices; it involves changing consumption habits.

"This is going to be an initiative larger than replacing light bulbs," Franz said. "It's going to have some substantial tools to it."

During Thursday's meeting, presentations will be made on successful community energy reduction programs and how to implement them across the island.

Some of those solutions will deal with peak load, and overall energy use habits on the island. They include changing rate structures, real-time energy demand monitoring, Smart Grid technology and a furthered investment in locally generated energy.

PSE has expressed its willingness to participate as part of a community energy board or task force, but ultimately any significant reductions will be based on citizen participation.

"If we can get the community engaged, we'll come out with a better product," Aliabadi said. "How we address energy needs now and in the future, it takes a village to do that."

If islanders can't reduce their peak load energy needs, PSE will likely begin construction of their new substation in 2011.

"I believe we can do it – what I have seen from enough people is that there is a willingness to make something happen," Deets said. "Banibridge Island has a strong environmental focus, and this is really an opportunity to put our values in action."

The community energy meeting is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. April 30 at the Bainbridge Island Commons.

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