Finally, after a long stretch of local media silence on PSE’s gestating monster, Energize Eastside, the Seattle Times published this story by Paige Cornwell on June 3, 2019. It does a good job of covering both sides in the controversy over the project, giving us who oppose it more respectful ink in a major media outlet than anything else we have seen to date.
But the article falls short for failing to address the fundamental issue over the need for EE. PSE’s PR flacks use supply and demand arguments to justify the project, whereas the real issue is not that, but whether EE is needed to maintain reliability.
There is a huge difference between those two concepts that requires context and explanation:
The article appears to accept the premise that rapid downtown Bellevue development is a plausible reason why Bellevue needs to increase overall electricity supply to meet an increasing, continuous, daily demand. In other words, the issue as presented by PSE appears to be one of more supply being needed to meet increasing demand. And though Energize Eastside is a transmission project offering no new sources of power generation, nevertheless it is supposed to alleviate the supposed supply problem.
That assumption ignores the fact that everywhere, including booming Seattle, electricity consumption has flat-lined for at least the last five years due to improved building construction methods, conservation, and more energy-efficient appliances. We can provide all sorts of proof of that phenomenon.* In addition, there is the trend of large enterprises like Microsoft producing their own energy for their needs rather than relying on the grid.
So Energize Eastside is not about “meeting the growing Eastside demand.” The real issue is reliability, i.e. the need for providing a proportionate, temporary emergency electricity supply source to address the very remote possibility that a perfect storm of Eastside electricity system failures might occur at a peak usage time of day, causing a blackout of short duration, measured most likely in minutes or hours, not days.
That perfect storm has never happened on the Eastside, but it is a possible worst-case scenario contingency. Federal rules require utilities to prepare and design for that possibility, but not in the very extreme way PSE proposes. There are so many other reasonable alternatives to satisfy federal regulations, including, for example, building a small gas peaker plant in Factoria near I-90 and downtown Bellevue where the load would be heaviest in a rare peak usage event. That plant would not need 18 miles of new transmission lines to function.
We have been told by an expert such a plant would cost around $30 million, not the $300 million price tag for EE, and it would be turned on only for the duration of a possible peak emergency. Which means most likely: never.
Energize Eastside is in fact a very expensive, dangerous, and environmentally destructive solution to a problem that is highly unlikely to happen; or if it does, PSE’s particular solution will be like requiring heart surgery to cure a cold.
To once more mix metaphors: PSE is only too glad to distract everyone to look at oranges (supply and demand) when the real issue is apples (reliability in an emergency). They do so because the oranges promise profits in the hundreds of millions, whereas the apples offer at most only a few million dollars.
For CENSE and CSEE, we need to do a better job to make these points to decision makers. And so does the Seattle Times.
*Here is one such proof from Don Marsh, President of CENSE:
The City of Bellevue has a website tracking energy consumption for the past seven years, using data provided by PSE: https://k4c.scope5.com/pages/61
Look at the second graph. Total electricity consumed varies a little from year to year due to very hot or cold weather in a given year, but consumption is not growing.
The city explains the flat growth trend on the left side of the page:
“Electricity powers our lights, heating and cooling systems, pumps, computers, and appliances. Conservation combined with increased population growth have tended to keep total community use fairly flat since 2011. However, 2014 was one of the hottest summers on record, with an average temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. As most commercial buildings have air conditioning, the exceptionally long, hot summer likely contributed to the additional 1 million kWh of commercial electricity used in 2014. As you can see from the last chart, the majority (67%) of our community’s electricity use is non-residential.”
In 2017, the amount of electricity consumed was almost the same as in 2011. Bellevue’s population increased by 11% during that time period. If PSE’s forecast of 2.4% annual growth had been accurate, our electricity consumption would have increased by at least 14%. If that were happening, there would be a very obvious increase in this graph.
According to the city’s budgeting department, electricity consumption fell again in 2018, but that data has not been added to the graph yet.