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Clinton man starts petition drive demanding PSE bury power lines

Helen Butler of Central Kitsap Medic One presents Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue probationary firefighter/paramedic Luke Bugg with an advanced stethoscope as board members Mark Eisenberg (left) and R.E. “Dick” West look on.  - Photo by Kassie Korich
Helen Butler of Central Kitsap Medic One presents Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue probationary firefighter/paramedic Luke Bugg with an advanced stethoscope as board members Mark Eisenberg (left) and R.E. “Dick” West look on.
— image credit: Photo by Kassie Korich

A Clinton man fed up with the recent power outages on Whidbey Island and he’s ready to light up Puget Sound Energy.

Ed Jenkins hit the streets this week with a petition demanding that PSE run its power lines underground to reduce the number of power outages caused by falling trees and limbs.

Jenkins is asking business owners to post his petition so signatures can be gathered from locals who agree that power lines should be installed underground on Whidbey Island.

After back-to-back-to-back outages, many residents have said it’s time that something be done about the island’s precarious power position in recent months.

“I am doing something about it,” said Jenkins, who has lived on Whidbey for roughly three years.

Jenkins said if PSE — or any utility — can’t deliver needed services, they can be closed down and sold and the job given to a company that can.

Jenkins argues that PSE’s claim that it is too costly to bury wires is their problem and not ratepayers’.

Jenkins hopes there is power in numbers.

He is asking people to sign his petition so PSE can see how “fed up we all are.”

“Customers have suffered financial loss and suffered severe hardships,” he said. “It’s time to put the power lines underground, and PSE on Whidbey Island at least should bear the brunt of the cost.”

If island power lines were buried, most of the wind-induced power outages in recent weeks could have been avoided, Jenkins said.

Although state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen has suggested looking into ways to use state revenues to pay for underground power lines, Jenkins said it’s ridiculous to suggest using tax dollars to pay those costs.

“PSE is a for profit, stock-owned corporation,” he said, adding that Haugen’s idea was “ridiculous.”

“This would be a direct subsidy of a privately owned company,” he said.

Jenkins said PSE had a chance to bury their lines 20 years ago when Whidbey Telecom put their lines underground.

“They had the opportunity to protect Whidbey from most power outages. They didn’t take it,” he said.

According to the Bellevue-based utility, underground transmission lines are custom-made due to their complexity. PSE has said creating custom lines significantly increases the costs to customers for the design, installation and maintenance of power lines.

PSE is willing to consider burying more distribution and transmission lines where practical and reliable, company officials said.

PSE also noted that because the record-breaking windstorm last month damaged much of PSE’s transmission system, even many communities with underground power lines were without power.

Nearly 60 percent of PSE’s distribution power lines in neighborhoods are buried underground.

But due to the long-distance reach of transmission lines, which bring power supplies from generating sources to our region, the majority of PSE’s transmission lines are overhead.

Whidbey Island has been hit with three major outages and multiple smaller ones in the past three months. The outages have meant lost school days, a decline in business activity and a general standstill of life for islanders in recent weeks.

Up to 90 percent of power outages result from problems in local power lines, and a quarter of those are caused by trees, according to the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

Gayle Saran can be reached at 221-5300 or gsaran@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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