BI council looks at PSE transmission line proposal

Puget Sound Energy continued to look for support for building a new transmission line on Bainbridge Island by talking to the City Council Tuesday.

The presentation focused on the positive aspects of such an effort. But some councilmembers talked about the negative comments they have heard from the public.

Joe Deets mentioned “what’s not being said” is as important as what the presentation did say. Deets said PSE has tried to get BI to accept similar proposals in the past. He disagreed with PSE that their proposal is resilient. He said the design is limited, and there’s no backup power. Deets said he would like to work with them on creating a better plan.

Mayor Rasham Nassar said more than 150 people signed a petition to keep the line off of Sportsman Club Road. She suggested the most-sensible route would be along Madison Avenue and High School Road because there already is a clear right of way in a more-urban area. “That would cause the least amount of environmental desecration,” she said.

Kierra Phifer of PSE said protecting the environment was one of the top concerns among people who commented on the project.

Councilmembers Christy Carr and Kirsten Hytopoulos also commented. Carr said it’s going to be a challenge keeping the line away from schools, while Hytopoulos said there are also concerns about health and property values, but the “few are sacrificing for the many.”

Phifer said some on BI have expressed an interest in going underground with the line, although the city would have to pay the additional cost of that. The entire PSE system would pay for an above-ground line.

Jens Nedrud mentioned that an underground system isn’t any more reliable than an above-ground one, and actually takes weeks when a repair is needed compared to hours or days. He also said underground takes out more trees.

Barry Lombard of PSE said, “We’re looking at the pros and cons of every route.”

Andy Wappler of PSE added, “We’re trying to balance the needs of everyone.”

During the presentation, Wappler said PSE has been trying to improve power reliability on BI since the 1990s. He said people found out during COVID-19 that electricity “is even more important in our lives than it was ten to twenty years ago.” He said it impacts not only family but working life, too. So customers were more vocal this time about better reliability.

Nedrud said along with the new transmission line, other lines from the 1960s have to be replaced. And if BI wants electric cars and ferries in the future and be better able to handle growth this project needs to be done. He said right now there are substations at Winslow, Port Madison and Murden Cove and the missing link that will reduce the number of power outages is to connect Winslow and Murden Cove.

Lombard talked about the five routes being looked at, which are on New Brooklyn, High School, Sportsman Club, Fletcher Bay and Bucklin roads, along with Madison Avenue.

Wappler said most public comments came from Winslow, people who live along the routes and south BI near Fort Ward State Park, which loses power the most often.

The PSE proposal is a combination of wires and non-wire solutions, including installing a 3.3 MW utility-scale battery for peak-shaving, implementing conservation and demand response programs to lower customer demand, rebuilding the aging Winslow Tap (a transmission line that connects to another transmission line and not a substation), and the “missing link” transmission line.

The “missing link” would improve reliability, reducing the frequency and duration of power outages. Two-thirds of the island is served by two substations that don’t have backup transmission. The “missing link” would create a transmission loop, meaning each substation will be connected to two transmission lines. If one line goes out, the other can still feed the substation and provide power to customers. PSE is analyzing five route options for the 60- to 75-foot poles.

Public feedback has included: Keep the system as is, support for improved reliability, desire to avoid areas with youth, concerns for impacts to neighborhoods, minimize impacts to nature and interest in underground transmission line, which would be paid for by islanders rather than all PSE customers.

PSE says its plan aligns with BI goals to move more toward electric heating and vehicles.

Hotels downtown area

Also, the council discussed its temporary ordinance prohibiting new hotels in the Central Core, Gateway and Ferry Terminal districts and the role of the planning commission in that process.

City manager Blair King said the city wants hotels downtown, but it needs to decide what that will entail, such as allowing a restaurant with it, for example.

Carr said the planning commission should use the Comprehensive Plan to guide the process, while the council and city get going on the Winslow Master Plan.

Land use

Finally, the council discussed an emergency ordinance recommended by the planning commission regarding clearing trees and vegetation within 30 feet of homes to protect them from potential wildlifes.

“We can encourage property owners to do that,” King said, adding a permit would not be required. He also said residents should be encouraged to get vegetation away from their roofs and decks.

The council will discuss that next week, along with the proposed planning commission changes to the process for land-use permits in the city.