Policies and Regulations
"Puget Sound Energy builds, operates and maintains the electrical utility system serving Bellevue. The city is part of a larger service area called the "Greater Bellevue Area" which is roughly the area between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish. PSE's goals are to meet future customer needs for electrical service, enhance system reliability, and maintain safe facilities...
Several new system facilities including transmission lines and substations will need to be constructed to meet the projected increased demand for electrical service and to enhance reliability. Bellevue's knowledge-based economy is part of a community lifestyle that requires and expects sufficient and highly reliable electrical service."
Utilities Element, Bellevue Comprehensive Plan, pp. 104-105
Local and state policies and codes that govern the siting and mitigation of electrical facilities in Bellevue
The City of Bellevue acts to ensure reliable utility service through policy, regulation and financial decisions. As the city considers requests for proposed utility facilities, particularly electric and telecommunications, a wide variety of factors are taken into consideration. The Utilities Element of the Comprehensive Plan provides policy direction reflecting four general themes: facilitating the provision of all utilities at appropriate levels of service to accommodate Bellevues' growth; balancing reliable service with safety and health impacts, a fair and reasonable price for the utility's product, impacts to Bellevue's natural environment, and a community desire for utility projects to be aesthetically compatible with surrounding land uses; processing permits with fairness and regulatory predictability; and encouraging new technologies that improve services and reliability while balancing health and safety, economic, aesthetic and environmental factors.
The Land Use Code provides regulatory authority. The city also regulates the use of its property and right-of-way through franchise agreements.
Electrical facilities are permitted uses in the Land Use Code. Such facilities are also typically subject to environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act.
At the state level the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission regulates private, investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in Washington. It is the commission's responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit. The Energy section of the Regulatory Services Division conducts economic regulation of investor-owned utilities.
WUTC also comments and approves regulated utilities' Integrated Resource Plans.
The state's Energy Strategy looks at issues of energy development and revises the state energy strategy every four years (the most recent is 2012). The results include suggestions for legislation, incentives, guidelines, taxation and other public policies. The strategy focuses on maintaining competitive energy prices; fostering a clean energy economy and jobs; and meeting obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 2012 Strategy emphasizes transportation, building efficiency and distributed energy.
Defining relationships with other projects
Two other components of electrical facilities planning at the local level are worth mentioning. After the adoption of the GMA compliant Utilities Element of the Comprehensive Plan, the City Council directed staff to explore additional compatibility requirements for such facilities. In response to community concerns, sensitive siting designations were adopted into the Utilities Element in 2008, and implementation standards were adopted into the Land Use Code in 2009. While it is critically important to meet growing demand for electrical service and further develop the reliability of Bellevue's electrical system, the 2008-2009 policy and code amendments codified how important it is to ensure that new and expanding electrical facilities are sensitive to neighborhood character.
The 2011 Electrical Reliability Study furthered this work. It included recommendations to amend the Land Use Code to allow PSE more flexibility in vegetation management and to ensure cooperation between the city and PSE in facility permitting of capacity projects deemed necessary to provide adequate electrical supply and reliability. Many of the recommendations have already been implemented, such as annual reliability and planning meetings between city and PSE staffs. The City Council has directed staff to review the memorandum of understanding with PSE enshrining these reliability recommendations, and to bring the MOU back for approval.
The city is currently engaged in the 10-year update of the Comprehensive Plan. This multi-year effort, mandated by the Growth Management Act, ensures that the Comprehensive Plan remains viable and consistent with the city's zoning and other regulatory efforts. The Utilities Element contains policies and maps that guide the siting of utility facilities in the city. The main purpose of this element is to ensure that Bellevue will have utility capacity to adequately serve the Land Use Plan. Policies also address the quality, reliability, safety and regulation of the services provided. Other policies address environmental impacts, facilities location and construction, economics, and aesthetics in design and landscaping.