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PSE asks Bainbridge residents to pick option 1, 2 or 3

After several months of community outreach, Puget Sound Energy says it is prepared to follow the lead of residents concerning the near future of the utility’s electric system on the central and southern parts of the island.

PSE’s stance when it first approached the community last year about the need for a system upgrade centered on a new substation and transmission line because the current two-substation network is near its maximum capacity, and the number of power outages experienced in the area has led to increased unreliability.

But after holding four public meetings and several discussions with interest groups and community officials, PSE has placed other options on the table.

Beginning next Tuesday with an open house event at Bainbridge High School, PSE will ask the public to weigh in on its three options:

1. Add a transformer to either the Winslow or Murden Cove substations;

2. Add a transformer and install a transmission line between the two existing substations;

3. Build a new substation (possibly on city property at the Head of Fletcher Bay) and connect the three substations with a new transmission line.

PSE also has scheduled open houses on April 29 at Wing Point Golf and Country Club and May 12 at Blakely Elementary School.

A spokesperson for the utility, which answers directly to the public Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, told the City Council Wednesday night that PSE will support any of the three options.

When Councilor Barry Peters asked the PSE representative if the council will have a say in the decision, Linda Streissguth, a community relations manager for PSE said: “That is up to the council if you want to make this a policy decision. It is up to the council on what option we do.”

The community appears somewhat torn about how to ensure improved service reliability without overbuilding on an island that treasures its environment and is having open discussion about energy conservation measures.

The problem, PSE and most people would agree, is the island’s dependence on electricity without an alternative source such as natural gas, which is often used for space and water heating.

Essentially, PSE says the system exceeds its design capacity on cold winter days of “peak load,” and the island is vulnerable to equipment failure or storm damage because it is served by a single transmission line that is laid across the Agate Pass Bridge.

PSE officials have made it clear that building a new substation and adding a transmission line (construction would start no sooner than 2012), would increase reliability and quicken power restoration after an outage. Cost of the additions would be shared equally among PSE’s 1.1 million electricity customers.

However, a growing number of islanders have questioned the necessity of such action at this time.

They want PSE to avoid acting prematurely because such additions would lead to increased electricity rates, potential EMF (electric magnetic field) health issues and altering the island’s environment.

A group of “concerned citizens” calling themselves RAiSE (Reliable and Safe Electricity) have been active in recent months and have asked PSE to consider the “transformer only” alternative that would be more of a short-term fix.

By upgrading one of the existing substations, RAiSE argues, neither a new substation nor a new transmission line is needed. According to PSE, all three would reduce the over-capacity risk by adding 25 megawatts of capacity to the system.

An island-wide conservation effort would be a critical component for Option 1 since there’s no question that the “maximum capacity” issue needs to be addressed, RAiSE member Bob McCready said during the group’s public meeting Tuesday.

Some members of the community have shown a desire to conserve by participating in a PSE-sponsored Demand Response Program, which tests new technology that enables the utility to automatically manage customers’ energy consumption during peak-load times. There are 640 residents – including City Councilor Hilary Franz – involved in the program.

But is it enough? Probably not unless islanders become involved in a wholesale conservation effort.

“We don’t think that’s enough,” McCready said, “but adding a transformer would alleviate the capacity issue and buy us time to explore more technology.”

According to PSE officials and the reams of information it has been circulating, the island’s power outage problem must be addressed because there’s a a higher frequency here than at any other location it serves.

PSE’s solution is to add a transmission line that connects the substations, thus diminishing the risk of outages and other problems. PSE admits that the island’s lone transmission line is rarely affected, but argues that a second one would be a key element to make the island less outage prone.

PSE originally wanted to connect the two substations along Sportsman Club Road near Sakai and Woodward schools, but has come up with two other options.

Both options would have the line starting at the Murden Cove facility, running down State Route 305 and then with a combination of High School Road, Wallace Way, Madison Avenue, Wyatt Way or Eagle Harbor Drive in the mix, depending on where a third central-area substation would be built.

Most outages are caused by trees and limbs striking the island’s 145 miles of overhead distribution lines,. But PSE counters that an outage on the 14.5 miles of transmission line serving the Winslow substation affects the entire south end – 4,300 customers or about 8,500 residents.

The alternative to a new transmission line “is to substantially cut trees along our existing transmission corridors,” PSE said on its Web site. That would involve removing an additional 25 feet on either side of the existing lines – approximately 42 acres of trees.

Elaine Davis, who identified herself to the council Tuesday as a business person who has worked with PSE on electricity issues, said the conservation approach is desirable but it doesn’t address the problem directly.

“PSE must meet a high standard of service and shouldn’t reduce those standards under any circumstances,” she said.

Kevin Dwyer, executive director of the island Chamber of Commerce, said businesses and homes located in Winslow depend on reliable service and that outages can be costly.

“We just want reliability,” he said, “and we don’t care how it’s done. Just do it.”

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Make your voice heard

Option 1 – Add a second transformer at Murden Cove or Winslow substation without looping the current system with a new transmission line.

Option 2 – Add a second transformer at a substation and add another transmission line to connect the two substations.

Option 3 – Build a new substation (likely near Fletcher Bay) and a transmission line that would connect all three substations.

Each would add 25 megawatts of capacity and address near-term, peak-load concerns.

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