Monthly Archives: April 2014

PSE Fined $1.25 Million for Falsifying Gas Pipeline Safety Inspection Reports For 4 Years Running

The subtitle for this web site may have to be reworded to: The Many Things PSE Won’t Tell You. This shocking story about PSE falsifying safety records has to be right up there among the Top Ten. The quotes below are from the Washington Utilities and Transportation web site, 2008, a story that PSE has somehow managed to keep quiet since then: http://www.wutc.wa.gov/webimage.nsf/0/7BF2E405148BE6E288257420007F48A0:

“OLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators today fined Puget Sound Energy (PSE) $1.25 million for fraudulent natural gas pipeline inspection records spanning a four-year period. The fine is the largest penalty ever imposed by the state on a natural-gas distribution company…’Accurate record-keeping is a critical component of pipeline safety and vital to the commission’s ability to perform safety inspections,’ said Mark Sidran, chairman of the three-member UTC. ‘Falsifying safety records is a particularly serious violation, warranting a serious penalty.’”

Just add this to the collection of facts and issues PSE hides, distorts or lies about. People should have gone to jail over this! This kind of criminal activity should have resulted at a minimum in the revocation of PSE’s franchise in this state! A $1.25 million fine is chump change to PSE, they pay nearly double that annually in political “campaign contributions” in carefully equal amounts to Democrats and Republicans. Can our politicians be so blind or corrupt that when something this outrageous happens they just look the other way?

If PSE is willing to falsify natural gas pipeline safety inspection records for four years (saving money by avoiding replacing antiquated equipment?), thus putting thousands of lives at risk — can anyone believe there is anything PSE won’t falsify and lie about? The CAG groups have been told one lie after another, and specific examples are being collected to prove PSE cannot be trusted. But PSE has already given us plenty of evidence back in 2008 that nothing they say or do can be trusted.

PSE’s psychopathic behavior continues today. In Montana, PSE burns coal that among other things emits mercury into the atmosphere, killing animals, and PSE is violating all kinds of state and federal environmental and clean air laws where PSE faces substantial fines. According to http://daily.sightline.org/2012/04/19/pse-should-do-the-math-and-show-its-work/, the liabilities PSE faces for failing to use modern coal-burning technologies and other government agency-ordered upgrades could wind up in the hundreds of millions of dollars that we, the ratepayers, will be stuck paying if we let them. From the article:

“The Colstrip Generating Station in eastern Montana is facing an overhang of liabilities so severe that PSE’s Washington ratepayers are at risk of exposure to tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars in upgrades.

“Coal plants like Colstrip are facing potentially costly liabilities that stem from EPA regulations to protect public health: Regional Haze rules to protect air quality in scenic areas; National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) rules that may apply to several types of dangerous pollution from Colstrip; compliance with new rules governing mercury and air toxics; and coal ash treatment. In addition, there are at least two additional liabilities the utility should account for publicly: increasingly expensive coal extraction from the nearby mine and carbon pricing.

“When faced with these costs, the utility will inevitably attempt to pass on the costs of these upgrades to its customers in the form of higher rates. But do state ratepayers really want their next energy dollars spent on retrofitting a coal plant?

Is this Australian-owned company that can sit back half-way around the world and trash our communities and laws with relative impunity operating in OUR public interest? The WUTC and/or the Washington State Attorney General should throw these bums out!

PSE’s 10-year franchise with the City of Newcastle expires in August of this year. We hope when PSE applies with the City of Newcastle to renew that franchise (which may have already happened?) the people of Newcastle will be informed of that application so they can oppose it in a public hearing. Seattle City Light, a public utility that serves part of Renton, is a local entity that lives in our area and lives, like us, with the consequences of its decisions, and whose rates are lower than PSE’s. SCL is a good candidate to replace PSE. Thought should also be given now to forming a Public Utility District in conjunction with other Eastside cities. PSE spent millions of dollars not that long ago to defeat an effort to establish a Thurston County PUD, but on the Eastside we would have bigger, energized and funded groups to achieve a better result.

If you live in one of the cities affected by PSE’s proposed Eastside project, check out when your city’s franchise with PSE is up for renewal, and start talking with your friends and neighbors about replacing PSE with a responsible power utility or by creating a Public Utility District. If Snohomish County could do that, so can we!

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PSE Proposed Poles Fail HUD “Hazards and Nuisances” Standards

The 90′-125′ poles PSE plans to install (replacing in many areas existing 60′ poles) will violate HUD guidelines regarding safety and depreciation of property values; from http://archives.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/ref/sfh1-18f.cfm:

“HUD HOC Reference Guide – Hazards & Nuisances: Overhead High Voltage Transmission Towers and Lines
Chapter 1, Appraisal & Property Requirements, Page 1-18f:

“The appraiser must indicate whether the dwelling or related property improvements is located within the easement serving a high-voltage transmission line, radio/TV transmission tower, cell phone tower, microwave relay dish or tower, or satellite dish (radio, TV cable, etc).

“1. If the dwelling or related property improvement is located within such an easement, the DE Underwriter must obtain a letter from the owner or operator of the tower indicating that the dwelling and its related property improvements are not located within the tower’s (engineered) fall distance in order to waive this requirement.

“2. If the dwelling and related property improvements are located outside the easement, the property is considered eligible and no further action is necessary. The appraiser, however, is instructed to note and comment on the effect on marketability resulting from the proximity to such site hazards and nuisances.”

Perhaps not that many dwellings along the PSE-proposed routes will be financed via HUD funds, but here is an obvious standard to look to when cities decide whether a safe “fall distance” exists with homes in many places just a few feet from the proposed new poles that could fall and crush those houses during construction, in a gas pipeline explosion or in an earthquake. Many homes lie above one of the worst earthquake fault lines on the West Coast. Yet PSE admitted on 4/21 at the Renton Technical College that it will not design the poles to counter earthquake-scale hazards!

PSE keeps citing high costs as a reason not to underground the 230kV lines (“$25 million per mile,” a number that is several times the estimated cost cited in numerous authoritative web pages with no profit motive to skew facts — this topic will be the subject of a future post). Meanwhile, what are the true costs of NOT under-grounding the lines? Is it serving the public interest to put peoples’ lives and homes at such great risks of severe damage or death when placing lines underground and/or in areas of no or less residential density would remove those risks?

Would it be OK to go back to making cars without seat belts and airbags because that would be cheaper? 

oldcar

The image of PSE destroying our beautiful neighborhoods and turning them into INDUSTRIAL BLIGHT conjures up visions of a GODZILLA run amok, crushing everything in its path:

godzilla

A Moving Personal Appeal to PSE’s CEO: “Can We Start Over?”

UPDATE: It took several weeks, but PSE finally found a PR person to answer on behalf of PSE’s CEO. It is posted here without comment.

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This letter from Bellevue resident Don Marsh seeks to restart the PSE “public outreach” process which has failed in so many ways to engender trust and get all the facts out in an unbiased way. It is written with the soft, reasoning voice of a David trying to reconcile with a mean Goliath. We hope this will be just the first of many such letters!

Just one of several gems in it:

“Just imagine, if you will, what the debate would be if you had included an underground option for us to consider. Instead of trying so hard to convince us your way is the only way, you could say ‘Here’s an underground route. It will preserve your views and property values, but it will cost everyone two dollars more each month on their electricity bill.’ Then there could be a public debate about whether that is how we want to spend our money. Doesn’t that sound a little more like democracy in action, giving everyone a say in decisions that will affect us all for decades to come?”

Please read the whole thing.

 

 

Sign The Petition!

Some Bellevue citizens have put together a petition to the five cities who have permitting authority for PSE’s proposed project to ask them to enact a moratorium of one year on this project so we and our elected representatives can get more facts and update safety and other code regulations to better protect us from this industrial blight PSE wants to impose on us and make us pay for.

We may differ among ourselves on the specific wording of this petition — for example, why not a moratorium for three years, since demand for energy from PSE has been flat for the last three years according to its annual 10k filing to the SEC, and that demand will probably remain that way for the next three years?

With a moratorium of that kind of duration there is also more room for new technologies to mature so we aren’t saddled with dinosaur overhead power lines for the next 30 to 50 years. But whenever we have an effort like this petition, we need to show our solidarity and sign it online. If you want to promote your own petition, meanwhile, go to change.org and launch it! We will post it here, too.

PSE’s Idea of an Open Meeting

At the 4/21 “Special Q&A Meeting” at the Renton Technical College hosted by PSE to “answer all questions” run by a PSE-paid moderator, there was one person, “CV,” asking questions who was a retired PSE electrical engineer with obvious deep knowledge of how PSE operates and works with other major power companies like BPA and Seattle City Light. His questions were so penetrating and the panel responses so off point and confused that they seemed relieved when the moderator cut CV off when his allotted time was up. Several people in the audience shouted they wanted to hear him keep talking, he was onto something meaty, but the moderator refused and told CV to leave the microphone. One elderly gentleman in the back of the room, speaking in a British accent, said, “How many here want to suspend the rules so this gentleman can keep speaking, let’s vote by a show of hands,” and an overwhelming majority raised their hands. Still, the moderator refused and told CV he could speak again later after everyone else had a first chance to speak. CV did speak again much later, after about half the room had left for home.

What most people in the room didn’t see at the time of the show of hands was how this British “parliamentarian” was treated to a special “PSE outreach” from security guards. My, what a security risk — getting people to raise their hands.

PSE-security

 

 

Renton Mayor and Councilmembers Ask Pointed Questions to PSE

Update:

PSE responded to the City of Renton’s questions with this letter.

One particular paragraph in their answer to question #3 is rather shocking:

Additionally, it is important to note that the routes being considered by PSE were chosen as overhead routes. Due to the additional engineering and construction challenges with undergrounding, the current route options may not be able to accommodate an underground project and new underground route options would need to be considered.”

So right off the bat no consideration was ever given for undergrounding in PSE’s selection of the 18 segments that would qualify in the potential preferred route — their only thought was putting everything above ground, that’s it. Talk about tunnel vision! So even in their own scenario where the unlikely option of a local community choosing to pay for undergrounding might occur, they would still be able to block that by saying the selected route won’t accommodate that. They never even bothered to explore what they now call “new underground route options” and confess that one, some or all 18 segments “may not be able to accommodate an underground project”! What is the point of all the PSE “public outreach” if they have from the very start foreclosed options that could very well be the most optimal solutions?

After severely and unfairly limiting the project options to just two scarcely vetted routes (one set of segments ending in “M”, the other set ending in “L”), routes that suit PSE’s “wires and poles” tunnel vision and increase profits for its Australian owners but offer the people living here no better, meaningful choices, the entire PSE PR “public outreach” for citizen feedback has been from the start a cynical, rigged farce.

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Gregg Zimmerman, P.E., the Administrator of Renton’s Public Works Department, on 4/14/2014 wrote a letter with several key questions to PSE relaying Renton’s mayor’s and City Councilmembers’ concerns about “Energize Eastside.”  We have asked Mr. Zimmerman to forward PSE’s answers so we can update this post with that information.

Of particular interest is Question No. 2:

“With regard to the option of under grounding all or portions of this transmission line, PSE has made reference to Electric Tariff G Schedule 80, provision 34.b, which states “in order for the Projects undertaken in response to such requests to result in rates for electric service that are fair, just, reasonable and sufficient” the Requesting Entity “shall pay the Company for any and all increase in cost due to such change.” However, PSE’s literature identifies several advantages underground lines provide over overhead lines, including less frequent outages, less susceptibility to wind and ice storms and third party damages such as vehicle collisions, and reduced need to manage vegetation. The purpose of Energize Eastside is to improve capacity and reliability of the power grid. Since underground lines would provide greater reliability than overhead lines, why wouldn’t installation of underground lines provide benefits that could fairly, justly and reasonably be paid for by the general rate payers?”

In other words: “Why doesnt PSE offer an underground option for at least some portions of their proposed project?” The City of Anaheim decided, starting in the 1990s, to remove overhead lines and place them underground throughout the city. They charged an added 4 cents a month on everybody’s electric bills because under-grounding was deemed a citywide benefit; why shouldn’t we apply that same kind of thinking here?

The time is rapidly approaching when PSE’s “tariff” 34(b) needs to be challenged by complaint made to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission — both as to the “tariff” itself and as to PSE’s practice in how it interprets the “tariff” to preclude under-grounding high-voltage power lines. PSE is not serving the public interest as articulated in RCW 35.96.010, “Declaration of public interest and purpose”.

An Appeal to Common Sense and Fairness: “Would Amazon Treat Its Customers This Way?”

From an email of a concerned Eastside citizen to PSE that awaits an honest answer:

“Don’t you believe in your heart that high-voltage power lines are dangerous? Would everyone who works at PSE allow their children to play under a power line all hours of every day?  Would everyone at PSE agree to live under high-voltage power lines; especially those who are pregnant?  Would everyone who works at PSE choose to walk, hike, play, live under lines without a care in the world about the effects?  That is what you expect from us!

“Shouldn’t we start reversing this?  Why are we littering our environment with unnecessary and debilitating power lines when there are other viable long-term solutions?  PSE could be innovators and set the bar for the rest of the area!

“The process we are going through seems backward.  If you worked at Amazon, you would see a great practice of understanding the customer need and working backward into the solution.  They perform research and due diligence prior to proposing a solution.  I think it is a best practice!  That said, I am deeply concerned about the number of people and amount of effort to make decisions with the lack of data provided.  The due diligence [by PSE — ed.] comes later, after all the neighbors fight it out with no information.  We don’t know what we don’t know and PSE isn’t able to answer (or from the North meeting Workshop #2 documentation, refuses to answer) the questions to the level of detail most people desire to make decisions about their homes and communities.  In all honesty, I would sincerely and deeply appreciate studies performed in advance of us moving further from the mandated agencies which PSE must comply to.

“It seems like a small investment compared to the current efforts.”

Thank you, well said!

The fact is, the self-serving “experts” at PSE don’t know everything but act as if they do. They have set, pat answers for every question. Their “public outreach” in reality is one big, phony, evasive sales job.

We all deserve a MORATORIUM on this project until all facts and issues are honestly investigated and disclosed by independent, credible sources. At a minimum, this project should be put on hold for as long as necessary until we are assured all reasonable alternatives to corridors and technologies PSE wants to use have been thoroughly vetted. PSE has had three years to plan the project and launch its PR campaign; those of us who will have to live for decades by whatever decisions PSE plans to make on its own deserve equal time.

At least PSE has been honest enough to admit that all their public shows about citizen input is something they can completely ignore come site selection time (Wappler, 4/21 “Q&A” meeting at Renton Technical College). The “CAG” process is a charade.

AND there is this: We have been informed by electrical engineering experts that the proposed PSE project isn’t necessary and/or better routes exist. PSE admits there is indeed a “short-term” solution that could put this monster project off for as much as five years, but they want “a bigger solution” for all the hassle they’re going through now so the monster poles and wires can remain into “2030 or beyond.” (Wappler, 4/21 “Q&A” meeting at Renton Technical College).