Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Whidbey PUD - Connecting to the Grid

I am part of a group working to establish a Whidbey Public Utility District (PUD). A PUD is nonprofit, locally regulated, and exists only to serve the power and water needs of a community. Created by legislation, in 1930, PUD's are a response to private power companies neglecting the needs of rural communities. Washington's PUD's have a long, bright history of successfully solving problems, and providing great service to rural communities. The official web page of our local effort to establish a Whidbey PUD is here.

One of the big problems with power on Whidbey Island is that we have a single source for all our electricity: the high-tension lines crossing Deception Pass. When this connection fails, the entire island is dark. Clearly, we need to connect to the grid in at least one other spot. There are two good options for this, both requiring underwater cables. The best option is connecting to Camano Island across Saratoga Passage. We could also connect to Mukilteo across Possession Sound.

There are numerous empty, unbuildable lots on both sides of the water, and a sub-station can be built to look like a home, so it's not necessary to impact anyones view, or the environment in any substantial way. Underwater power cables aren't cheap, but they are readily available, durable, and efficient. There are numerous spots along the Saratoga passage where Whidbey Island and Camano Island are just over 2 miles apart. Sandy point, east of Langley, is only 1.5 miles from the south end of Camano Island. The maximum water depth is only 60 feet between Polnell point and Rocky point, near Oak Harbor; but generally the farther south the connection is made, the deeper the Saratoga Passage becomes: Nearly 500 feet at Sandy point, for example.

Between Whidbey Island and Mukilteo, Possession Sound is again just over 2 miles wide, however the water depth approaches 600 feet in most places. In any case, the engineering problem of installing underwater power cables is not that difficult or unique, and the increased reliability makes the cost a moot point, in my opinion. Certainly a feasibility study would be ordered by the PUD at the earliest convenience.

At some point, really the sooner the better, Whidbey also needs to develop it's own power generating capabilities. However connecting to the grid in at least one other place is essential for reliable service.

Connections on Whidbey Island.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dan, I like your enthusiasm, but believe a cable is totally unrealistic. Many of us have been looking at reliable power issues for years. In meetings with PSE at least 10 years ago and then again in 2006 a group of us (including PSE) investigated a cable. To be succinct, we concluded that cost, shipping lanes, but mosty enviromental concerns made a cable unrealistic. All three of those issues would be a much an issue for a PUD as is for PSE.

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