For the past three years, at least, Eversource, which provides electricity to most of greater Boston, has proposed to build a transmission-line substation on a part of the city-owned field at the eastern end of Falcon Street in East Boston. The proposal won initial approval last year from the Energy Facilities Siting Board based on need : more power is needed in a city growing rapidly both commercially and with residents. At the time, the company’s argument of need seemed to me pretty convincing. As of this writing, however, I’m thinking that the company’s need is blocked by the inappropriateness of the intended site.
On Tuesday evening Eversource made its public-comment presentation as required by Massachusetts law. Final Siting Board approval cannot be granted without it. Thus at least 100 people came to the public-comment hearing at East Boston High School, and not one resident supported the proposal. Opposition came from people lifelong in East Boston as well as from new arrivals. All three elected representatives — State Senator Joe Boncore, State Representative Adrian Madaro, and City Councillor Lydia Edwards, spoke convincingly in opposition. Madaro insisted that East Boston already bears an excess of the City’s burden of utility infrastructure — he called for “environmental justice,” which, I guess, means that the neighborhood should be the locus of only a representative share of utility infrastructure. He was heavily applauded. Councillor Edwards made a point even more enlightening : that the huge turnout of opponents was an “opportunity,” as she put it, for the company to start working with the community, as it had not so far done.
Edwards has it right. Eversource has not, until now, fully engaged the community its substation would impact. This time it’s different. That the community is now on Eversource like a tackler on a fullback results much from Edwards’s own years of work arousing her neighbors and fellow activists. I hope that the Siting Board understands this and will listen to those who object to the site. In particular, objectors made one point which, in my own mind, seals the argument: the proposed site is in a flood zone.
There are other reasons to dislike the proposed site, and these were advanced at the hearing : its very close to jet fuel storage tanks, it lies adjacent to a ball field where kids play, it is across the street from dense streets of residences, all of them likely to destruction if there’s an explosion: and these do occasionally occur. Eversource has responded somewhat to these objections. It has moved its substation site about 190 feet westward from where originally proposed, a site that was perilously close to Louis Silverio’s fish processing factory. Having done so, Silverio, who had intervened in the case (as provided in the law), has dropped his objections.
Nonetheless, the flood zone objection stands. Chelsea Creek flows hard by the proposed site. It won’t be too long before the Creek will flood regularly; and as all climate change activists know, that flooding will only grow deeper. Bad things happen when electricity is conducted through water; and no matter how rigorously Eversource might build protections into its substation against the water from reaching the power lines, safety cannot be guaranteed.
To sum up : after Tuesday’s hearing I think Eversource has no choice but to rethink its plans. The flood zone objection cannot be willed way, and the universal opposition to project, from all who have any opinion about it at all, makes it bad customer relations for the company to proceed as if all were OK> All is NOT OK as it stands. The community conversation that Councillor Edwards has called Eversource to needs to happen and to be taken seriously. The City of Boston, too, which sold the land to Eversource upon which it intends its substation, needs to step back and rethink its plans. No doubt that the City needs more electric power badly. Brownouts already occur. Proper location of substations, however, is just as important as having them.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere