Bellevue, WA-based Puget Sound Energy (PSE) announced last Monday that its investments in new utility infrastructure will total $421 million this year, with about $247 million of the total aimed at capacity and reliability upgrades. The rest is focused on natural gas and electric distribution utility customer growth, the Puget Energy utility said.

With a pending $7.4 billion merger led by Australia-based Macquarie Capital Group and including Australian and Canadian investors, PSE and its parent are sensitive to perceptions that investment in the utility might suffer with an ownership change. The state of Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) is in the midst of reviewing a settlement that PSE reached in July with major stakeholders and examining other factors before deciding on the merger.

PSE has a laundry list of electric and natural gas system investments, including new above-ground transmission lines, 70 miles of buried cable, 800 new poles, six new substations and seven distribution substation upgrades. On the gas side, the utility said it has projects providing 200 miles of new gas pipeline main, including the replacement of 20 miles of older, uncoated steel mains; leakage surveys on 12,000 miles of pipeline; annual maintenance on 77 district regulators; and rebuilding two gate stations.

The work is spread around 10 different counties and includes two transmission upgrades and additions in Skagit County totaling about $70-90 million collectively (Sedro-Woolley to Beaver Lake, a 115-kV and fiber optic line and a 230-kV line upgrade; and a second Sendro-Woolley to Horse Ranch project to rebuild 40 miles of transmission lines). The 115-kV/fiber and 230-kV projects are set for completion this fall; the other project is slated to complete design this winter and construction in the 2009-10 period.

In total, the 24 major projects this year require what PSE COO Bert Valdman called “a lot of planning and coordination” to compress them all into 2008. The work is being completed by a combination of contractor and utility employees, Valdman said.

Valdman said the array of projects touching both natural gas and power systems has required considerable “patience and support” from the utility’s nearly one million electric and 721,000 gas customers.

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