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Plan for Denny Substation could mean new electrical towers running across Capitol Hill

The old Greyhound facility it will someday replace started demolition last week. This week, the public process begins for the $201.5 million Denny Substation project that, starting with the planned launch of construction in 2015, will create an important new Seattle City Light facility to keep up with predicted surging electricity demand in the South Lake Union, Cascade, Denny Triangle, Uptown, Belltown, and First Hill neighborhoods.

While the substation will be constructed at one gateway to the neighborhood, Capitol Hill’s concerns in the matter go a little deeper. Or, to be more, accurate — Capitol Hill’s concerns are up in the air. Way up in the air.

A proposed “overhead” route for the project’s transmission line calls for a chain of large, possibly 100-foot-high towers running up Capitol Hill via Denny Way then down 14th Ave, E Spruce and 12th Ave S. Needless to say, a few neighbors already notified by mail about this week’s upcoming meetings are a little concerned.

Here is how the project’s “Determination of Significance” document describes the 115 kilovolt transmission line:

“The transmission line would involve installing massive towers in a largely residential area,” writes Bryan Comstock in an email sent to CHS about the project.

The 15th Ave resident also sent pictures of what he said are a similar transmission line and towers that run along Delridge Way in West Seattle so we could “get an idea of what these towers would look like.”

“That alternative is certainly out there,” says Michael Jerrett of Seattle City Light about Denny Substation transmission line alternative #3 — also known as “the overhead route.”

Jerrett says the city’s preferences, however, are the first two alternatives — underground routes through downtown connecting the future substation at Denny and Stewarts to the S. Massachusetts substation near I-90:

The alternatives will be one of the hotter topics at a series of public meetings being held this week to as part of the environmental review of the massive, little-talked about project. The closest session to Capitol Hill turf comes Thursday with a 4:30 to 7 PM “scoping meeting” held at Seattle University’s 12th at Marion Alumni & Admissions building. The format of the meetings will be “open house” from 4:30 to 6 PM with an hour of “oral comment.” You can also provide comments via email


City Light Holding Three Public Meetings Next Week  

SEATTLE – Seattle City Light is in the early stages of building its first new substation in 30 years.  The environmental review process is underway and the scoping period began on Monday, Oct. 8. Scoping is the first step toward developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and provides the public an opportunity to comment on potential impacts and alternatives to be considered. 

City Light is holding three SEPA public scoping meetings to provide information about the project and to gather comments. Public Meetings will be held from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. on: 


Monday, October 22  

Seattle City Hall 

Bertha Landes Room

600 Fourth Ave.

Seattle, WA

Wednesday, October 24

Seattle BioMed

Discovery Rooms

307 Westlake Ave. N

Seattle, WA


Thursday, October 25

Seattle University

Alumni and Admission Building

12th Ave. & E. Marion St.

Seattle, WA

All meetings will feature the same content and will include an open house from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. and an oral comment period from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Written comments can be provided at any point during the meeting.

The scoping period ends at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. The public is invited to submit comments at any time during this period.  Send comments to:

  •  or
  • Seattle City Light, Environmental Affairs Division, ATTN: Kathleen G Fendt, P.O. Box 34023, Seattle WA 98124-4023

The new substation will help City Light serve customers in the South Lake Union, Cascade, Denny Triangle, Uptown, Belltown, and First Hill neighborhoods, as well as customers throughout City Light’s service area.

While City Light is hopeful it will succeed in achieving one of the two underground alternatives, there’s a daunting amount of process to get through before the decision will be final. The paths would take the transmission line through downtown and the ID/Chinatown areas meaning disruptive digging and construction over several months in the city’s core.

Construction time for the underground route is expected to take from 24 to 30 months. The overhead route would only need 12 to 18 months to complete. It’s also cheaper to create the overhead line. Jerrett said estimates for the overhead alternative come in between $30 and $35 million. The underground estimates fall between $45 to to $50 million of the Capital Improvement Program-powered $201.5 million project total.

Meanwhile, 14th Ave is the best route if the overhead alternative needs to be part of the plan. “14th is a logical overhead route due to the Right of Way layout for a large portion of 14th where there are wider sidewalks and/or planting strips,” Jerrett said. “Furthermore, overhead is not an option in Downtown Seattle due to building heights.”

With those “Right of Way” assets, Jerrett said there would be no need for any private property to be vacated along the 14th Ave route.

If for some reason 14th Ave won’t work as the overhead alternative, Jerrett said an alternate route has “yet to be determined.”

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8 years ago

Needs more gondolas!

8 years ago

Eep. I was just lamenting yesterday how much the wires we already have detract from our neighborhood’s appearance. This certainly wouldn’t help. I know it’s more expensive, but I hope they eventually choose one of the underground routes.

I know that might be sort of NIMBY-ish (given this would run right in front of my apartment, where there are already where’s bunch of wires) but surely neighborhood beauty can be worth the cost?

skip van winkel
8 years ago

Put the dam things UNDERGROUND where they belong.

8 years ago

Given our propensity for moderate to severe windstorms, I am all for underground utilities. I live in greenwood, half a block from greenwood park and we have the city row electrical towers that follow the path of the old interurban. I don’t mind them so much, but when you look at Olympic manor and blue ridge, its nice not having poles and wires everywhere.

8 years ago

Underground – duh! Beyond obvious. And perhaps they can move some of the other ones straddling the streets and blighting the skies to join them when they put them there.

8 years ago

I’m not saying this because I live on the Hill, but because it makes sense: Put them underground! Overhead power lines are more susceptible to storms. And, honestly, they’re ugly and out-dated. You would never see anywhere in Europe, or for that matter Asia or even large Latin American cities anymore, where they still put power lines above ground. It’s just silly. Make the investment in our infrastructure. And while we’re at it, let’s undeground as much of the other stuff along the way and clear our streets and skies of this eyesore.

8 years ago

I’m not sure why an above-ground options has been discussed…no one would ever complain about the underground option, making this a “hole in one” and there wouldn’t be a need to spend the extra funds on trying to convince otherwise. Being underground should be less maintenance, although the height alone should keep the wires out of harms way (unless high winds start picking up houses and farm animals) there for it’s a wash.

Just STFU and burry the bitches!!


Capitol Hill

8 years ago

When will City of Seattle learn that overhead wires are making Seattle ugly and causes a lot of problems such as power outrages due to strong winds and freezing weathers??? Please bury them underground to save a lot of troubles and make Seattle beautiful again.

8 years ago

Rather than advocating for burying the line, it would make sense to advocate that it now impact Capitol Hill/Central Area at all and use one of the proposed underground routes. These are options, right? Only one will be constructed.

8 years ago

” Zarakas said many electrical providers, struck repeatedly by severe storms, are studying the costs of moving lines and transformers below ground. But installing lines below ground can cost 8 to 10 times what it does to hang lines from poles, experts say.

A 2009 report by the Edison Electric Institute estimated above-ground installation costs at between $150,000 per mile in rural areas to $5 million per mile in cities. Installing lines underground ranges from $1,100,000 per mile to $23 million per mile in urban areas.

Zarakas points out that utilities request rate hikes based on their total investment in infrastructure. Customers are already paying rates based on the cost of installing existing above-ground lines. If the lines are relocated, utilities would seek rate increases covering not just the differential, but the cumulative costs.

“The cost to underground all our facilities would be astronomical,” said LaRossa of PSE&G. “We don’t believe that it will ever come close to being an economic advantage for folks to go ahead and underground all the facilities.”

“Undergrounding is more expensive, since the cost of burying cables at transmission voltages is several times greater than overhead power lines, and the life-cycle cost of an underground power cable is two to four times the cost of an overhead power line. Above ground lines cost around $10 per foot and underground lines cost in the range of $20 to $40 per foot. In highly urbanized areas the cost of underground transmission can be 10-14 times as expensive as overhead.”

8 years ago

We live in a 4th story condo set back about 20 feet from 14th, where the lines are proposed. We are about 40 feet up, so would be that much closer to the high voltage. We already have the usual smaller lines outside. I am very worried about such large structures on such a small street. The city has encouraged dense high rise living with no setbacks off the street- and now this proposal! It is a slap in the face.

8 years ago

Not all three will be built. I am wondering why above ground option is being proposed. The other two make much more sense.

8 years ago

I don’t doubt that “wt” is correct about underground construction being cost prohibitive. Clearly, above ground options are going to upset a lot of people on Capitol Hill and in the Central District, but why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?

I wonder if it’s possible to have the line running along the freeway? From Dearborn to about University, they would probably need to be elevated, but maybe not by 100 feet. There’s no trees there, after all. North through the Convention Center, the lines are attached to the bottom of the building/ ceiling of the roadway. Then for the remainder of the trip north to Denny, they can be attached to the east retaining wall. I don’t know exactly how high it is above the freeway, but it’s taller than a telephone pole for sure! Distance-wise, it’s just slightly longer than the red route and way shorter than the path up and over the Hill.

Who knows!? :)

8 years ago

WHY WOULD THEY BUILD SUBSTATION ON PRIME FRONTAGE OF DENNY, AT CH GATEWAY IN FIRST PLACE!!? I was happy to seem demo starting on ugly!ugly! Greyhound, but an startled to find out they’ll replace with ugly!ugly! substation. No better way to kill a sidewalk and ped connection than with 200′ chain link around substation! Can’t they build this thing under a freeway or some other piece of unusable ground? or fronting I-90 where nobody else wants to be?
SCL is probably thinking “whew! they’re just focused on the maybe/maybe not poles…”
Let’s take them to task! This can’t be best solution.

8 years ago

Probably the same reason you go out and buy a Honda and not a BMW. There’s this thing called money.

Buck up
8 years ago

1.) The substation location has already been appoved, after months of “Seattle process”, so that’s a non-starter.
2.) City Light surrounds their in-city substations with landscaping and public art. Mostly because of 1% for art, but also because they are owned by the public, and reflect the public’s values.
3.) The increased density is why the new substation is needed.
4.) Burying all utilities would mean not only increased electrical rates for decades, but massive, multi-generational street disruption, and huge expense to property owners with existing overhead service.

We can have dirt cheap, incredibly reliable electric service, or we can glam things up and create an expensive mess.

Hidden Subs
8 years ago

I have not been able to find anything on SCL’s website, but there is a chance this will be a Gas Insulated Substation which takes up much less room and can be hidden in a structure. It is however, much more expensive than the typical Air Insulated Subs you see normally.

Here are some pictures of hidden substations in Toronto

Margaret K.
8 years ago

I don’t know where buck up lives, but I would bet not on 14th.
I went to the meeting last night, and it was quite informative. City Light prefers the two underground alternatives, but staff said that underground is much more expensive, so they said they needed to have an aerial alternative to compare. The towers would be about 100 feet high, probably on the west side of 14th. Our 4th floor condo is about 40 feet up with minimal setback, and Chloe apartments are about 60 feet up. These are high voltage transmission lines carrying 115 to 230 kV.
While the other alternatives are preferred, time is of the utmost in bringing concerns forward. Please do not wait until the process is any further along before speaking up or sending in your comments.

I brought up social justice concerns. 14th has many multifamily dwellings, many of which have people of lower income than single family dwellings. The new substation is necessary because of growth in South Lake Union. City Light “has a policy of using an underground network distribution system” in high density areas such as Downtown, and Lake Union. However, they don’t consider us to be high density, so not only do we have aerial distribution (low voltage) but now they are also studying aerial transmission of high voltage on Capitol Hill.

I brought up health concerns. There is a WHO EMF project with health risk criteria, available on the internet. It describes potential health risks of electromagnetic fields created by high voltage. City Light staff say they will have an expert report on this, yet I worry about the fact that many of us are several stories up and with little setback from the street, and thus would be closer to the high voltage.
I brought up transportation concerns. The towers would likely be a physical and visual deterrent to walking, which is common on 14th.
I also brought up historic and cultural issues- there are many old houses on 14th, and also Seattle University is partly on 14th.

8 years ago

Thank you, Margaret K, for your information on last night’s meeting and and your voicing concerns about the less expensive option (by $15-20 million)of 100 foot towers carrying high voltage.

As a homeowner on 14th, I was amazed to hear that at least 2 other homeowners had also not been notified of meetings/ways to comment on the Environmental Impact Meetings scheduled this week. My neighbor and I are endeavoring to get the word out to others (owners/renters) who would be affected, in case they also haven’t heard. I created a flyer which we are posting along 14th. If you would like to distribute as well, I have sent the flyer to and

Eric Hutcheson
8 years ago

Just emailed SCL with my opposition to running lines over the hill. They need to spend the money to do it right and bury them, not half ass it like they do so much in Seattle only to regret it later. Kingdome was a perfect example!

8 years ago

I sent my email of opposition to the email address above. I also contacted Mike O’Brien and several other city council members who work on City Light issues. When I called Mike’s office, his aid said I was the first person who has called. My neighbors attended 2 of the hearings and very few opponents attended. If you dislike this proposal as much as I do, please send an email to

These blog comments are nice, but they won’t do as much good as contacting SCL to let them know you don’t favor the above ground proposal.

Margaret K.
8 years ago

I also spoke to my sister-in-law who is a city planner. She said she was surprised they were even putting forth an aerial option. She brought up hazards with high winds, which could knock the poles down into buildings, also earthquakes could knock the poles into buildings. There would be a risk to emergency crews if they needed ladders to get to the condos, as their ladders could be near the lines. I plan to add this to my SEPA comments. And thanks to Bryan for the reminder about contacting city council members.

Dr. John Ruhland
8 years ago

I highly recommend that you bury the lines for the new substation in Seattle, as well as all power lines, especially those passing through residential neighborhoods.

“One response to the potential dangers of overhead power lines is to place them underground. The earth and enclosures surrounding underground cables prevent the electric field from radiating significantly beyond the power lines, and greatly reduce the magnetic field strength radiating from the power lines, into the surrounding area.[29]”

The reason this is recommended is that the best designed, independently funded studies on long-term health effects of ELF radiation show:

“…some research has reported correlation with a number of adverse health effects, although controversy can include whether observed correlation implies causation. These include, but are not limited to, childhood leukemia,[16] adult leukemia,[22] neurodegenerative diseases (such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis),[23][24][25] miscarriage,[26][27][28] and clinical depression.”

Source: Wikipedia

1305 E. Denny Way
1305 E. Denny Way
8 years ago

No one should have a power line outside their window. Put it underground please.

8 years ago

The city is going to dig up along the whole waterfront area for new utilities, tunnel and replacing the seawall. Why not bury this new line underground at the same time and then up the hill to Denny.
Let’s coordinate some work!!