Tuesday, September 1, 2015

PSE Investigates Electrical Load of Olympia Marijuana Operation

By Janine Unsoeld

Puget Sound Energy has completed its investigation into electrical loading issues at a home in a northeast neighborhood in Olympia. The home is alleged by a neighbor to be used for a commercial marijuana grow operation, and not a collective garden as the resident says. 

The Thurston County Narcotics Task Force made an unannounced visit to the home on July 7 and found the marijuana operation in compliance with that of a state licensed collective garden.

The neighbor, Melinda Spencer, believes that recent utility line fires were caused by the operation next door to her home. Through telephone calls and emails since June, she requested information and assistance from city code enforcement, law enforcement, and Puget Sound Energy. Finally, she addressed the Olympia city council on August 18.

Amy Tousley, Puget Sound Energy's (PSE) municipal liaison manager and Bryan McConaughy, PSE senior local government representative, wrote a letter today to Olympia city manager Steve Hall and council members explaining their investigation and recommendations. The letter does not delve into the possible reason for the electrical loading issues.

In late August, PSE installed a volt recorder meter to conduct readings at Spencer’s home and that of her neighbor’s. 
The letter states that Spencer’s home readings were determined to be well within normal swing limits for electrical usage. 

The readings at the neighbor’s house,  “…indicated a steady state of electrical load with high fluctuations well above electrical tolerances. This type of usage demand does not allow the equipment to cool. Our investigation also determined that the existing 100 amp circuit panel for (the address) is not sufficient to...meet the load being placed upon the equipment. To meet the existing load, PSE recommends that the circuit panel be increased to a 300 amp meter base. It is PSE’s assessment that without improvements to the service line and circuit panel, existing and additional increases in electrical load will continue to affect the service….”

To address the load, PSE recommends the installation of a larger wire for the service, replacement of the mast-head and anchoring for the new service wire, and an upgrade of the circuit panel.

The customer is required to contact PSE Customer Construction Services to submit an application for a service upgrade. 

“If PSE were to make improvements to the service line without the masthead and circuit panel being upgraded, there will more than likely be continued service issues at this location including the potential for a structural fire.”

PSE has contacted the property owner to explain the issues associated with the service to the property, and has sent the customer living at the rental home a letter informing him of his options.  Those options are to obtain the services of an electrician and submit an application to PSE for improvements, curtail the additional load being placed onto the system, or disconnect the electrical service due to ongoing safety concerns.

The letter places the burden on the city to address the underlying issue or what may or may not be going on at the property in question, and suggests that the city request access to the home in order to ensure that any alterations to the existing circuit panel are compliant with code.

“We are also concerned about rumors of an expansion of the ancillary use to the detached structure on the parcel….We greatly appreciate our partnership with the City to ensure proper permits are obtained prior to any expansion occurring.” 

After city manager Steve Hall briefly reviewed the PSE letter with councilmembers, Councilmember Julie Hankins asked a couple of follow up questions about grow operations in a residential area, which prompted a longer conversation about referring the issue to the city's Land Use committee and the city’s Planning Commission for further review.

For more information about this case, go to Little Hollywood at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and use the search engine to type in key words. Three previous articles are dated August 18 and August 23, 2015.

Editor’s Note: Although Puget Sound Energy’s letter to the city manager and councilmembers mentions the address of the home in question, Little Hollywood is choosing not to print it. Little Hollywood initially printed it the evening of August 18, but chose to retract the address the next day. Little Hollywood does not believe the address is relevant, as the issue is one that is widespread throughout the city, and one that will need to be addressed.