Above: Electrical lines at sunset in a northeast Olympia neighborhood off of Puget Street.
By Janine Unsoeld
On Friday, August 21, Little Hollywood sat down with representatives of Puget Sound Energy to discuss the Olympia case involving a marijuana grow operation in an Olympia northeast neighborhood. PSE has been in contact with both customers involved in the dispute.
Puget Sound Energy is responsible for the utility connections to homes and businesses.
Amy Tousley, municipal liaison manager for Thurston County, and Bryan McConaughy, senior local government affairs representative, discussed what they knew about the case, answered questions, and explained their next steps.
Puget Sound Energy has told the City of Olympia that the repair work done on a line after three utility line fires was safe, and that PSE was continuing to monitor the condition of the line. PSE concluded that the line fire cause was due to the age of, or damage to, the line.
Tousley said she will give the Olympia city council an update on the situation at their September 1 meeting.
“Our business is having a safe system…and to work closely with cities and counties to see what we can do to help them,” said Tousley.
Above: The transformer in question in a northeast Olympia neighborhood.
According to PSE, a PSE employee made a service call to Melinda Spencer’s house and her neighbor’s several months ago because Spencer’s neighbor asked if he could pay PSE to upgrade the transformer. The tenant indicated that he didn’t think the service line or transformer serving the home could support the equipment used in his marijuana grow operation.
That PSE employee reported seeing a large number of marijuana plants, much more than what would be considered as a collective grow. The tenant also said to the employee that he intended to expand his operation to a detached garage.
The tenant never followed through with paying to have a larger transformer installed, so the original transformer, which serves six homes on the street, is still in place. In addition, the service line, which is sized for residential electrical loads, continues to serve that property.
On August 15, a volt recording meter was installed on the Spencer’s house. It measures voltage and amperage. The levels were normal at the Spencer’s house, and well within what is called a “voltage swing,” determined to be 114 - 126 volts.
On Thursday, August 20, a volt meter was installed on the neighbor’s house in question. The results will be available next Wednesday, August 26. The volt meter is put on the transformer right on the live line to get the best data available to see if that transformer is overheating. The volt meter data will measure whether or not too much load is being pulled through the wire, and whether or not the wire is too small.
“The transformer is large enough but the wire may not be because of what may be pulled through,” said Tousley.
If an upgrade is needed and if the wire needs to be changed out, then it is the customer’s responsibility. If the customer is a renter and the renter leaves, the property owner would bear that cost.
“Our lineman was taken to a detached garage and was told there might be an expansion into that structure. Whether or not that has already occurred, they have already disclosed their intention, and that would very much require more electricity,” said Tousley.
“PSE is taking action on this. We are doing the monitoring and testing to make sure we provide ourselves the best information so we can find out what the next step is, otherwise, we’re just going to be making a lot of speculation based on what we think might be occurring….This is an issue we’ll be seeing more of throughout our region. It’s probably something we need to put together a team and say, ok, this is going to be happening…how are we going to address this? Do we encourage cities to add some code component, or request that they do, or defer to the cities and say it’s the cities’ responsibility? We need to figure that out….” said McConaughy.
Tousley said that the repair work that was done after the line fires may look a little like undone shoestrings, but its appearance is a standard method of splicing and repairing of the line.
Marijuana operations aren’t the only type of business that may draw more electricity. Beauty shops, automotive shops, small internet service providers, and radio stations are other examples commonly seen within a residential area. PSE has different customer classifications based on usage, but it is up the city to determine if a business is taking place within a home.
Asked how often PSE is responding to cases similar to this one, Tousley said it is happening more and more because they are wondering more often why their equipment is giving way.
“We’re becoming very familiar with this on the industrial side of the pot growing operations. Because they have to go through proper permitting to become an actual facility, we are usually brought into the loop earlier because some of these larger operations are 200,000 square feet, like the one in Lacey. There’s going to be a need for a couple megawatts of power. We actually have a special person inside PSE that works with these official businesses to help them through the process and make sure the load in our system is prepared to handle that...,said McConaughy.
As for the non-industrial side of the operation, McConaughy said, “We’re having to address a whole new scenario…(it’s) new case law, a brand new legal arena.”
Above: Of course, fire was the first source of light, as the Olympic Mountain Family Fire Dancers demonstrated Sunday night at the Love our Local Fest event in Olympia's northeast neighborhood.
For more information about this case, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type key words into the search engine.