Category Archives: Putting Power Lines Underground

Technical information regarding policy and feasibility issues

PSE’s “Community Advisory Groups” (CAGs) Are a Sham and a Fraud

The centerpiece of PSE’s “public outreach” propaganda is to set the stage with rigged “Community Advisory Groups” so it can then falsely tell the permitting authorities PSE’s preferred route for dinosaur overhead wires and 12-story poles has the blessing of the citizens affected. In reality, this process has been manipulated and rigged by PSE in multiple ways to force the results it wants and sell it as “what the community wants.”

This isn’t the first time PSE has tried to pull this kind of stunt, and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission called them out on it last year. PSE is required to file an annual Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the WUTC.  In its response to PSE’s 2013 IRP, the WUTC was highly critical of the same sharp practices with a CAG that PSE is repeating in the Energize Eastside project: “Advisory Group members expressed continued frustration with the way PSE responded to questions or requests for data. … Certain data were not provided … due to concerns about confidentiality. Yet, PSE did not take advantage of standard Commission practice for the handling [of] confidential information. These omissions inhibited [Commission] Staff review of the IRP, which the Commission finds unacceptable.”!OpenDocument, p. 8.

And the WUTC further found generally: “[PSE] fails to meet the Commission’s expectations of clarity, transparency and thoroughness.”!OpenDocument, p. 11.

But don’t take our word for it that PSE’s CAGs are a sham and a fraud. Below are several videos of Bellevue citizens airing their grievances to their city council on June 3, 2014 against PSE’s riding roughshod over them and others in a race against the technology clock to get their INDUSTRIAL BLIGHT project built. These citizens’ combined message to PSE and the City of Bellevue: Slow down; get all the facts right from trustworthy independent third party experts; put a moratorium on the project until then, and above all, do not accept PSE’s a priori, self-serving rejections of reasonable alternatives that the CAGs never had a chance to evaluate.

Jeff Dubois: PSE — and the City of Bellevue – we need to put safety first. The rail corridor that runs parallel to Lake Washington Blvd. above Newport Shores lies in the middle of a very sensitive slope with homes up on top and more homes and condos down below. In some places that slope is 70 degrees or steeper. Hundreds of trees would have to be removed from the hillside for a 1.5 mile proposed stretch with 50 feet being removed on each side of the line. This could be the next Oso tragedy. The City of Bellevue and PSE need to make sure the risks are truly understood and addressed for the safety of the citizens of Bellevue. For the entirety of his comments:

Don Miller: His neighborhood has attended every open house, every CAG meeting, and every subgroup meeting. Throughout the process they have seen PSE continuously refuse to consider alternatives such as submarining in the lake, giga storage batteries for peak usage, sharing the corridor with Seattle City Light, undergrounding, and others. In their meetings PSE has repeatedly attempted to keep citizens from raising issues or neighborhood concerns or suggestions to modify the process. PSE has routinely turned their questions away with weak data and incomplete or unsubstantiated answers or even deceit. For example, PSE repeatedly claimed no design work had been done on any route, but recently residents learned that on Route L PSE had done preliminary design work and conducted a walk-through and even showed the neighbors on Ripley Lane where the poles would be located. When the City Council attempted to get a specific answer to the question of the real need for regional use, they were forced to ask the question a variety of different ways as PSE dodged giving a specific answer. Miller urged the City Council to issue a moratorium on building permits for this project until such time that the questions are answered and PSE’s data is validated by independent sources. For the entirety of his comments:

Steve Kasner: He noted that although this has been referred to as a private utility based in Australia, there are best practices all over the country and the world as examples of what cities have done to protect their quality of life, their power grids, and the things that were important to their residents. He stated that the citizens have to make this work for the citizens of Bellevue by putting all the options on the table. It is ludicrous that the City can’t get solid numbers about how much energy will be going to Canada from the proposed Energize Eastside project. He hopes this will not be the last meeting facilitated by the City on this project. For the entirety of his comments:

Lisa Taylor:  Apartment owners are also impacted by this proposal, but the City is not hearing from them because they are not property owners. She asserted that Bellevue has been heavily hit by carrying the burden of transmission power for the entire region. There are lines around Lake Washington, along Lake Sammamish, two sets through the central city areas, and a third potential set proposed. She pointed out that she thinks there is more of this coming. This is a precedent that the City is setting in doing this. The Bonneville Power Administration is already carrying capacity on the City of Seattle lines. She’d like to have the City take a look at what the answer is, not just for this area, but also for the region with an eye toward what’s to come. She asked why Bonneville isn’t getting together with Seattle City Light and PSE to come up with one solution that gives us an answer for 50-60 years plus so we don’t have to go through this again. For the entirety of her comments:

John Merrill: There are less destructive alternatives to Energize Eastside, but PSE took them off the table before the CAG process even started. The City needs to put them back on the table and have them thoroughly studied. He referred to a graph stating that in less than three years the lights will start going out unless we let PSE trash our neighborhoods. This is a powerful message, but it is false and disingenuous. PSE has been studying the needs of the Eastside for decades. They had a number of solutions to the problem other than the one that they prefer now but have taken off the table. There is time to study this right. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to study this thoroughly in order to preserve the livability and sustainability of the community. For the entirety of his comments:

Assif Rehan Alvi: He travels a lot and regularly sees third world countries putting power lines underground. He is shocked that they are talking about putting 12-story power lines above ground in this country. He thinks there is enough money to do this right. He agrees that we owe it to our children and grandchildren. For the entirety of his comments:

Pat Hansen: She questioned if PSE’s easements should continue to be on private property. The residents receive no benefit. The easement was signed in 1929 when 10 or more acres were grouped together. PSE pays no part of their taxes for the privilege to occupy this space. She asked what it would be like in the area when they come in with their big trucks moving poles and wires, putting up monstrous metal poles towering over the trees and homes. She expressed concern about the high pressured petroleum lines underground. She asked what would happen when one of the pipes ruptures after repeated loads by the heavy trucks. This would affect not only the easement owners, but those on adjacent properties. For the entirety of her comments:

Dr. Richard Kaner: PSE’s Community Advisory Group (CAG) process is deeply flawed. The data presented for decision making, by PSE’s admission, is inaccurate. Their solution is to blind the CAG members so they don’t know which data applies to which route and then have them vote. The Seattle City Light corridor will be upgraded to meet the needs of Seattle and the region. This may be the best time to replace the “erector set” poles with well-placed undergrounding and less horrific monopoles that meet the needs of PSE, SCL, and BPA. PSE consultants admit that much of the need can be met by adding a third bank to the existing transformer in Sammamish and Lake Talbot. He asked about the connection to Lake Tradition or a combination of all of these. PSE is proposing the cheapest, most convenient solution that allows them to protect their margins and participate in the lucrative market of shipping power to Canada, which will be done at the residents’ expense. However, PSE is dealing with a community that cares deeply about values that have made this a desirable place to live. This community understands that putting this is in anyone’s backyard adds to the industrial blight that will destroy the quality of the Eastside. For the entirety of his comments:

Thomas Abel: He thinks everyone needs to remember that this city was built upon the idea that it is a park within a park; literally it is a community designed to live in nature. He commended CENSE and everyone in orange shirts for the work they have been doing to fight the concept of the power lines. However, he thinks they need to recognize that if these power lines must happen, the residents need to think about ways to do it without damaging the value everyone has in the City without defiling it with huge power lines and a variety of destructive means. For the entirety of his comments:

Philip Malte: He stated that 1 gigawatt is the amount of power that would go down this 230 kV line. 1 gigawatt is what a very large nuclear power plant puts out. A 1 gigawatt power line coming through neighborhoods would industrialize Bellevue. PSE is basically proposing an upgraded version of 1960’s technology. He noted that it is almost 2020 so why can’t we have 2020 technology? Snohomish PUD is planning to install grid-scale battery storage this year. This means they can hold back on their need for more transmission lines. If SnoPUD, which is a smaller utility, can do it, why can’t PSE? There is a lot that can be done with distributed generation. This needs to be looked at very seriously, as well as other alternatives. For the entirety of his comments:

Fred Martin: His house has the Olympic Pipeline running through their backyard with 45-foot poles with 115 kV lines running over the field. He looks out there and sees that as his retirement, as his nest egg. He noted that in an article last night in the Seattle Times, Mr. Andy Wappler referred to the affected residents as multi-millionaires. Mr. Martin confessed that he is not a multi-millionaire or even a millionaire, but this is his property and his nest egg. He commented that PSE is trying to fast track this and push it through. He stated that PSE is used to getting its way and used to being bullies. He urged the City of Bellevue to stand up to them, slow this down, and make them do a full study. For the entirety of his comments:




Woodridge Resident Questions Validity of PSE Project, Other PSE Assumptions

We received a very thoughtful white paper from long-time Woodridge resident Russell Borgmann that explores the following questions and provides some interesting answers:

  1. Is the Energize Eastside project necessary?
  2. Is it legal?
  3. Is it safe?
  4. How much will it cost?
  5. Why no alternate routes?

On the first question whether the project is needed, Russ notes:

“PSE says Energize Eastside is required to meet the growing energy needs of the Puget Sound Eastside over the next 30 years.  However, in a private study commissioned by Bellevue (Exponent Report on City of Bellevue Electrical Reliability Study Phase 2 Report) says:  “PSE has not experienced any load growth since 2008.  The planned growth has therefore been shifted forward by a couple of years.  The present planning criteria is for 0.5% annual growth for the immediate future and a growth rate of about 1% per year for the next 10 years…the likely result is a surplus of available electric energy”.  PSE says growth is straining existing infrastructure.  The City of Bellevue’s independent report contradicts PSE’s claims.”

NOTE: To build its proposed project along either of PSE’s two ill-considered, pre-selected routes, PSE does not have all the easements it will need on either route, and it will fail in trying to exercise eminent domain to get them if it cannot meet the legal criteria that (1) the use is really public; (2) the public interest requires it; and (3) the property appropriated is necessary for that purpose.

And as to placing the power lines underground, Russ again cites the independent study undertaken for the City of Bellevue:

“Overhead (OH) and Underground (UG) systems were compared in the independent study of Bellevue’s electrical supply. Number of outages are consistently LOWER with Bellevue’s Underground systems (see Figure 3, page 17). Furthermore, equipment failures produce the greatest number of outage events, followed by tree-related and wildlife-related events (pg 18). Since 2008, there has been a continuous decrease in equipment failures associated with Underground Installations.

“PSE has not presented data, however the independent Exponent report demonstrates that underground installations have increased reliability and lower ongoing maintenance costs, which in the long-term should more than offset higher installation costs. “

You will never learn any of this, of course, from Andy Wappler’s many PSE Dog & Pony Shows. There is other worthwhile information here you may not be aware of. Please read the whole thing!

Why Not Put The Lines Underwater?

As noted here previously, PSE ‘s “all-wires-overhead-all-the-time” tunnel vision excluded from its consideration all undergrounding options when it pre-selected the only two routes currently put before the public. PSE also chose to ignore another 21st century solution: Putting the lines underwater in a submarine cable.

San Francisco, for example, will start placing a 13.5 km-long cable with 230kV lines through the San Francisco Bay that will be completed in July 2015 at a cost of $37 million. That comes to $4.4 million/mile, vastly cheaper than the unsubstantiated $25 million per mile PSE has been touting for undergrounding lines in its Energize Eastside project.

Underwater cables containing high-voltage power lines are not new to King County. We already have an underwater line from Renton to Mercer Island, and another one from Des Moines to Vashon Island to Kitsap County that provides the Vashon Island with all its electricity.

Nor are the above-mentioned submarine solutions unique phenomena. Here’s a link to an impressive list of several existing submarine cables around the world and many proposed ones as well: The San Francisco submarine cable has yet to be added to the list.

Renton Mayor and Councilmembers Ask Pointed Questions to PSE


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.


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”.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 9.54.33 PM This article in the 4/16 Bellevue Reporter reveals PSE’s project may be less about stated goals and more about hidden agendas.

And note this huge Wappler-Whopper in the article: “[Wappler] added the state utilities commission states if a community wants underground lines, it is the residents’ responsibility to pay for it.”

NOT SO, ANDY! It is PSE’s tariff 34(b)(ii) that the utilities commission acceded to approving that created this overreaching, irresponsible policy. It was PSE who authored that “tariff” and pushed it through the utilities commission, and it can be amended or thrown out altogether by the utilities commission at any time as “unfair or unreasonable” through its complaint process, as well as by the state legislature.

Further, that “tariff” says nothing about putting power lines underground. Rather, 34(b)(ii)  says if a “requesting party” (that could be one person, several persons or a city) wants a feature to a project added that PSE in its sole judgment thinks unnecessary, and if that additional feature adds to the cost of the project, then the “tariff” puts the responsibility to pay for that on the “requesting party.” PSE takes too myopic and short-term a view of the cost for under-grounding lines; in fact it is probably a lot cheaper to put lines underground if all cost benefits are taken into account.  How PSE got that “tariff” (supposedly just a fair return on PSE’s monopoly) past the UTC must have been a pretty neat trick. 

For the actual wording of the tariff PSE relies on, 34(b)(ii), go to the third-to-last page here and start reading.

Here is another Wappler doozie from the article:  “The community would have to figure it out,” Wappler said of paying the price tag for underground lines. “We can’t figure out who pays for it and how.” Did he actually say that?!

Finally, as to under-grounding lines, PSE should check out this statute passed by the state legislature and signed into law by the Governor: RCW 35.96.010, “Declaration of public interest and purpose:”

“It is hereby found and declared that the conversion of overhead electric and communication facilities to underground facilities is substantially beneficial to the public safety and welfare, is in the public interest and is a public purpose, notwithstanding any resulting incidental private benefit to any electric or communication utility affected by such conversion.”

This law applies to existing overhead power lines that should be put underground — so why not insist on the same result for power lines that don’t yet exist? Do we really have to build overhead lines first before we can put them underground?

Underground 230kV Lines Can Cost Less than 230kV Overhead Lines Over Time

This 2006 article states that even as long as 8 years ago placing high-voltage transmission lines underground was a cost-effective option.

From the article:

“On one hand, overhead lines are exposed to more things that cause them to fail, turn off or need to be periodically maintained: wind, ice, lightning, contamination, trees and so forth. Underground lines simply miss out on all the excitement to which overhead lines are exposed. On the other hand, when overhead lines need to be worked on, the process is usually straightforward. When underground transmission fails, the repair process usually takes longer and costs more. However, because of the lack of required routine maintenance, some evaluations present a case for underground transmission having a lower lifetime cost than the lower first-cost overhead option.”

And this:

“At the end of the day though, when utilities examine and rank the root causes of distribution system reliability indices (SAIDI, CAIFI and the like), transmission system outages are nowhere near the top 10 causes. This is true for utilities with robust bulk power-delivery networks. So, unless transmission-caused outages are a significant component of customer distribution reliability indices figures, the relevant impacts of the possible unreliability of elements in the transmission system is not a long discussion.”

And this:

“Internationally, [as of 2006] there are also more than 1000 miles (1600 km) of solid dielectric cables in operation at voltages in excess of 230 kV. As shown in the following table, roughly one-third are at voltages greater than 345 kV. None of the over 230-kV cable is in the United States.”

We still are saddled with an 1890s’ mentality regarding overhead transmission lines.

And most important, there is this:

“Today [as of 2006], there are long, involved public hearings where thousands of stakeholders are put on notice about the need for the proposed line and routing. It is not uncommon to have many institutional and private interveners in this process. Their motives cover the entire spectrum of possibilities, from thoughtful and critical with the objective of improving the entire process, to what has been reduced to the acronym NIMBY (not in my backyard). The seemingly unending nature of this licensing and/or permitting process has introduced an enormous uncertainty into the overhead line design-to-construction process.
This uncertainty of getting an overhead line approved is the major modern trend. The cost differential between overhead and underground has also lessened. This is made more complex by congestion charges for network bottlenecks caused by line permitting delays. All this uncertainty and the change in economic environment gives the underground option an appeal that was previously absent.”

Translation: A project with callously overlooked design and safety flaws, sold to the public  with evasions and lies, should be stopped in its tracks by conscientious, determined citizens!

A possible rallying cry for all 18 segments: “PSE: None of the Above!






2010 Eastside Gas Pipeline Explosion from Overhead Power Lines!

Here is a story from August 2010 that may be news to you — certainly something you will never hear on the Andy Wappler Dog & Pony Show:  “From a public safety standpoint, trees that grow near high voltage transmission lines can become electrified even without touching the line, creating a hazard to anyone in the area. Earlier this year, a tree that contacted the eastside transmission line carried electricity down its trunk to a fence and then to an underground natural gas line, which caused an explosion in the line and the home it served. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident.” Whole story is at

From the same article: is this what we have to look forward to?powerlines


NPR Story Notes Nobody Has Done Sufficient Benefits Analysis of Putting Power Lines Underground

From the article:

“So the bottom line is — nobody knows the bottom line. Nobody’s gone past the cost side of the cost-benefit analysis. Even if cities like Seattle had the money for undergrounding, there’s no way to know if it’s a good investment, and they have little incentive to change how things are done.” Full text: If Power Lines Fall, Why Don’t They Go Underground_ – NPR

Study on Underground Transmission Lines by Wisconsin Public Service Commission

Comprehensive document on types and locations of underground power lines, created for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission: electric11

From the document, on p. 21:

“The most non-debatable reason for choosing underground is in highly urban areas, where acquiring ROW [rights of way] that meets National Electrical Safety Code requirements is difficult or impossible. This makes the added cost of undergrounding acceptable to not being able to route the new line at all.”

In many jurisdictions the National Electrical Safety Code is adopted as law. It is recognized everywhere in the U.S. as setting minimally acceptable standards of safety. An engineer in Newcastle asserts that the widths within which PSE plans to construct and operate the proposed new poles and wires along either L or M are not wide and safe enough to comply with the National Electrical Safety Code.

Also, on pages 7-8 there is reference made to transition stations which some say would be required for putting lines underground for this PSE project, but the document says that would be required only for lines transmitting 345kV or higher. This project contemplates 230kV.