Seattle Times Energize Eastside Article Overlooks Key Issue: Reliability vs. Supply

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.

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*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.

 

PSE’s Energize Eastside: A Continuing Fraud

PSE’s Energize Eastside is a continuing fraud that apparently no public enforcement authority is interested in investigating or calling to account.

The project is based on several frauds, not the least of which is a set of bogus computer simulations called “load flow studies” that were rigged with insane assumptions, including turning off emergency power generators at a time of rare extreme peak demand moments.

As this video parodying PSE and its use of friendly “consultants” points out, turning off emergency power generators is like turning off sprinkler systems in a building to make sure it burns down in a fire:

Four Big Lies in PSE’s Hard-Sell of Energize Eastside

PSE will do and say anything to get its boondoggle Energize Eastside (“EE”) project past the scrutiny of what appear to be naive and ill-informed consultants charged with the current Environment Impact Studies (“EIS”) for EE. CSEE hopes through pubic comment to expose PSE’s deceitful acts regarding EE in order to counter notions that PSE is somehow owed special deference by and unlimited access to those consultants. Several emails produced by the City of Bellevue to CSEE under public records requests indicate the relationship between PSE, the City of Bellevue and the EIS consultants is far too cozy.
To download CSEE’s submission of its comments on the botched EIS process up until now and the inadequate Phase 2 draft EIS, click here.
To summarize those comments, here are the Four Big Energize Eastside Lies that PSE has gotten away with so far —  but should no more:

1. EE is based on a failed ColumbiaGrid flow study that included exaggerated, false NERC criteria. Yet PSE used those studies despite their failures (the studies could not “solve” to a working solution) by having a pliant consulting firm, Quanta, use them for inputs in load flow studies in order to justify EE. The phony data far exceeded the federal reliability requirements as adopted from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

The core rationale for EE is based on a fairy tale. See the full CSEE submission for details.

2. PSE has misrepresented its desire and efforts to seek a much superior alternative route with Seattle City Light, using SCL’s existing Eastside lines. Though PSE spokespersons told the public early on that the SCL Eastside lines were its “first choice” for EE and they tried to obtain permission from SCL to utilize that route, the truth is otherwise. It turns out PSE never made a formal request for those lines. FERC Order 888 sets out mandatory guidelines on how that process works; if SCL were to refuse to cooperate, FERC would have the right to put SCL out of business by denying it access to any other FERC-regulated lines in the grid.

Despite how easy it was for CSEE to uncover the truth about this common-sense SCL alternative to EE, the writers of the Phase 2 draft EIS appear to have bought hook, line and sinker the PSE’s lies about how hard they supposedly worked to get cooperation from SCL, and how supposedly insurmountable such a task would be. It is not, as former PSE VP for Power Planning, Richard Lauckhart, explains in the full CSEE submission. In fact, he says, the SCL lines alternative could be built much faster, safer and cheaper than the bloated EE that PSE would prefer to see built.

We hope the EIS consultants do a better job and do their own homework on this SCL lines alternative rather than simply rely on whatever PSE tells them.

3. PSE has mounted an aggressive PR campaign, similar in kind and credibility to a political campaign, in order to mislead the public into thinking EE will fulfill a need to meet future Eastside growth that PSE claims is 10 times that of booming Seattle.

That absurd falsehood is readily rebutted by SCL’s Sephir Hamilton, Engineering and Technology Innovation Officer, who in 2014 laid out these facts, starting at 0:52 into the video:

“In the last four years nationwide, per-customer energy use has declined by 2%, both residential and non-residential. Here in Seattle it’s declined 2.7% for non-residential, and it has declined 7.6% per customer for residential energy use. Even with all the growth that you see here in Seattle and south Lake Union, we’re projecting total load growth of less than a half of a percent over the next five years. This is a huge change in the entire makeup of energy use industry in the United States, and especially here in Seattle where we’re leading the way.”

4. PSE repeatedly and falsely advertises the lie that EE is needed as a “long overdue Eastside grid upgrade” despite several expansions of the Eastside grid in the past two decades. We have already discussed this false advertising campaign in depth in a recent post here. The full CSEE submission on the Phase 2 draft EIS includes this discussion in Section 4 of that document.

UPDATE: It is becoming increasingly apparent from several emails produced by the City of Bellevue pursuant to public records requests that PSE has too much influence and control over the entire EIS process. The Bellevue City Council is either negligently ignorant of or complicit in allowing PSE to get away with its lies unchecked. The City of Bellevue can no longer be trusted to act as the Lead Agency for the EIS review and should be replaced by a neutral, competent party. See CSEE’s supplemental comments on the Phase 2 Draft EIS here, submitted on May 23, 2017.

Public comment on the Phase 2 Draft EIS is now being taken from May 8 through June 21, 2017. You can make your comments by email to info@EnergizeEastsideEIS.org. To have your comment made part of the official record, you must include your name and physical mailing address. For more information, go to http://www.energizeeastsideeis.org/participate.html.

 

 

 

PSE’s Lies to Promote Energize Eastside Exposed by CSEE

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” — Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda during the Third Reich.

Goebbels took an innocuous word, “propaganda,” and turned it into what we understand it to mean today: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” (https://www.google.com/#q=propaganda+definition). Back in 1622, “propaganda” was the word given to a committee of cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for foreign missions, founded by Pope Gregory XV. So the meaning of the word has traveled quite a bit.

We have come to expect all kinds of propaganda from politicians. But you would think a private utility that was granted a monopoly by the state to provide electricity in exchange for putting the public interest first would not stoop to cheap propaganda in order to get approval for a lucrative project it wants to build for its investors.

But alas, such is not the case with Puget Sound Energy and its boondoggle Energize Eastside project. It is using focus-group tested PR gimmicks to press an aggressive and misleading ad campaign based on Two Big Lies: 1) that future Eastside “consumer demand” is some 10 times greater on the Eastside than it is in booming Seattle, so matching that demand with enough supply makes the project necessary; and 2) the grid on the Eastside supposedly has not been updated since the 1960s, back when Bellevue and Redmond were pretty much cow towns, and Newcastle mostly trees.

These lies have been challenged by CSEE’s attorney, Larry Johnson, who sent a letter today to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee to refute them. You can read it here: letter to utc et al.

To head up PSE’s aggressive PR campaign, PSE has not just relied on its smarmy mouthpiece, ex-TV weatherman Andy Wappler, they went as far as Wisconsin to hire lawyer Mark Williamson to act as its chief consultant for getting the project through the approval processes. Williamson’s website brags about his prowess in getting projects like Energize Eastside approved by treating them the same way as a political campaign:

“Williamson has developed a strategic communications technique patterned on ‘election campaigning’ – polling, message development and communication – tools that he employs, and has for years, to get utility projects approved, sited, built and on-line.” (http://prwcomm.com/now/?page_id=71)

So the PSE/Williamson strategy is clear: it’s all about winning; forget about fairly arguing the merits of the project and considering possible options that would serve the public interest better. It’s all about the hard sell. It’s all about PSE’s Australian and Canadian owners cashing in on their hedge-fund investment in Energize Eastside.

Even though PSE has yet to submit permit applications with the cities through whose residential neighborhoods they want to build Energize Eastside, PSE has already spent $26 million on such things as the dozens of ads it has placed in various media outlets throughout the Eastside, along with relentless mailings of slick brochures and postcards, all repeatedly touting the Two Big Lies.

And who pays for all this?

In the end, you do, in your electricity bill.

 

 

 

Former PSE VP Blows Whistle on Energize Eastside, Calling It a “Scam”

Richard Lauckhart, who for 22 years was a Vice President for Power Planning at PSE, has decided to blow the whistle on PSE’s Energize Eastside project, claiming PSE has been using specious facts and false assumptions to justify it. Last week he wrote these words to the city council members of the affected cities who have yet to receive permit applications from PSE for Energize Eastside:

City Council Members and staff –

Over the past two years, I have spent considerable time and energy investigating PSE’s proposed Energize Eastside project.  I am an energy consultant who worked for Puget for 22 years, most notably as vice president of power planning.  I keep abreast of all new projects in the Pacific Northwest, and two years ago I learned that PSE wishes to build 18 miles of new, high voltage transmission lines through the Eastside.  I assumed when I read through the documentation surrounding this project that everything would check out.  Instead, I came to quite the opposite conclusion.

I have investigated this project on a deeply technical level, for no compensation whatsoever, because I am compelled by my conscience.  I am shocked and dismayed that the company  where I spent the bulk of my career would try to put forth a project that at its best is baseless, and at its worst, a deceptive attempt by PSE to get a deeply flawed, yet highly profitable project into their rate base.

I’m reaching out to you today because I recognize that PSE is putting you in a difficult position.  As much as I respect the important role you play in your community, you are not experienced transmission planners.  Yet due to the way transmission projects are permitted in the state of Washington, you are being expected to fully vet a highly complex transmission project that, if permitted, will have a devastating impact on your community.  I know that PSE’s motto is “just trust us, it’s too complicated for you.”  However, your constituents are counting on you to represent their concerns and to force PSE to be transparent about things that up until now have been opaque.  PSE is counting on the fact that you will not do a deep dive into this project. It is a sad truth that a project of this cost and magnitude could be built through your communities with no vetting by anyone highly experienced in Pacific Northwest transmission planning other than PSE, which stands to gain financially from this project.

Based on my thorough investigation, I must conclude that PSE’s main goal in building this line is to reap the generous 9.8% rate of return allowed on projects like this.  This will yield PSE over a billion dollars over the next 40-50 years.  The project will not measurably improve reliability on the Eastside and may in fact significantly increase other risks, like those of a catastrophic pipeline fire.  However disappointing this is, it is not unusual in our country.  The media is full of reports on the “death spiral” of old fashioned utilities, and despite its seemingly progressive nature, Washington is not one of the states that has made significant overhauls to its incentive programs for utilities to invest in smart, clean tech.

In order to “blow the whistle” on this project, I have written two detailed papers.  I have also prepared a slideshow that provides an overview of what is in the two papers and enhances the message with graphics.  I have attached all three to this message.

I would be happy to talk to you individually or in a work session if you are interested.  I’m also happy to answer any questions you have about my documents.  You can reach me by responding to this email.

Sincerely,
Richard Lauckhart
Energy Consultant
Davis, California

Links to the three documents he references are here: 1) summary overview slides; 2) PSE’s motive for Energize Eastside; 3) Setting the technical facts straight.

We salute Mr. Lauckhart for taking this courageous stand against this boondoggle project and hope our elected city representatives will do likewise.

PSE’s Energize Eastside Project Counts on the Impotence of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission

Appearing in this month’s King County Bar Association’s Bar Bulletin is an article, “The Toothless Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission,” written by CSEE’s attorney, Larry Johnson. He reveals the real reason why PSE is pushing so incredibly hard to sell “Energize Eastside” with an all-out aggressive PR campaign and fraudulent ads: PSE’s Australian investor owners need the guaranteed 9.8% return on any new infrastructure, thanks to the WUTC and Washington law; PSE’s foreign owners could care less whether the project is needed (which it is not, as we have repeatedly shown here).

A guaranteed return of 9.8% for several years on a $300 million project in today’s markets? Where else can you get a fantastic return like that?

Johnson points out that the WUTC has no power to approve a project like “Energize Eastside” before it is built, only after it is built. By then, of course, all the damage will have been done, so the WUTC’s denying a utility a rate increase to pay for what turns out to be an unneeded project is a meaningless remedy. Not surprisingly, the WUTC has never disapproved any infrastructure project built by PSE.

We need to have a law like other states have, where the WUTC can hold a “public use and necessity” hearing so grotesque boondoggles like “Energize Eastside” don’t get built. Meanwhile, as the article points out, “…something can be done right away under existing law. The WUTC could issue periodic non-binding advisory opinions about any proposed new project before it is built and allow public input before issuing such opinions. There is nothing in existing law to prohibit that. And even with such thin gruel, both the public and the utility proposing the project would get helpful ideas in advance about what the chances are of a project’s approval, thereby hopefully deterring the bad ones.” (emphasis added)

You want to do something to make Washington the “progressive” state you think it is when it comes to energy? Write the WUTC, write the governor, write your elected representatives in the House and Senate in Olympia, and demand they make these changes in the law now!