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Boston Conservation Commission to decide in three weeks whether to approve controversial Eversource substation in East Boston

Councilor Lydia Edward's and Eversource's Bob Clarke.

Councilor Lydia Edwards and Eversource's Bob Clarke.

Nearly ten years after Eversource first proposed building a new power substation in East Boston, the city Conservation Commission could finally vote on whether to approve the project off Condor and East Eagle streets, next to Chelsea Creek.

The company says it has to build a new substation in East Boston because a substation in Chelsea that now feeds the neighborhood is at capacity and cannot supply enough power for the rapidly growing neighborhood - including the giant Suffolk Downs development that could go up over the next 20 years.

Opponents, who include City Councilors Lydia Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End) and Michelle Wu (at large) say the company has failed to prove that need really exists and that the particular site would be vulnerable to flooding and would pose new dangers to a neighborhood already overburdened with regional infrastructure, such as Logan Airport and all the trucks barrelling through the neighborhood.

If East Boston really needs a new substation, they argue, Eversource should work with Massport to put the thing next to an existing Logan substation 1,600 feet away, not in the middle of a residential area and next to an urban wild. John Walkey, of the local environmental group GreenRoots, said Massport is already working to "weather harden" its facilities and already has 24-hour security.

At a meeting on Nov. 4, the commission will decide whether to grant the permission Eversource needs through an "order of conditions" or reject the plans, which Eversource could then appeal to the state. The commission could also vote to do nothing, but Eversource could appeal that as well.

At a three-and-a-half hour hearing on Zoom tonight - a continuation of one that began in February - Eversource officials said the only real issue for the commission is whether the plantings the company has proposed on the northern side of the site, along Chelsea Creek, are good enough to help screen the facility, because the bulk of the substation would be on land well away from the banks of Chelsea Creek.

The company said that the state has already told the company that it agrees the substation would be "water dependent," so that it can be built near the water - although they acknowledged state officials have yet to give a final sign off for the roughly two years of construction to begin.

Company officials said the site is above the 100-year-flood plain and that they would design the equipment to survive a 500-year flood.

City councilors and residents, however, suggested Eversource, at best, does not know what it's talking about - that the site flooded just from yesterday's rains - and that they worry what happens if the facility shorts out, given that it's near a playground, a proposed Boston police station and Logan fuel tanks.

Edwards and Wu pleaded with the commission to go beyond plantings and think about the health and safety of East Boston residents, and to either reject what Edwards called "a money grab" by the company or delay the hearings so that residents could continue to make their case and get more data from Eversource. However, the commission declined to do that because that would require seeking permission from Eversource for more time and Eversource officials signaled they felt the three public hearings on the station they've already attended were enough.

"They are not welcome here in East Boston," Edwards said, demanding the company answer the question of why they are so intent on building on that site when "no one in East Boston wants you here." Company officials declined to answer that question directly except to reiterate their assertion that East Boston needs a larger, more reliable electricity substation.

Eversource's Bob Clarke added, "We do care and we have tried to work with the community." He acknowledged, "this infrastructure isn't popular it's not popular in any community," but reiterated what he said was the pressing need for it.

Commission member Mike Wilson said the whole thing has left him dismayed, in large part because the longer it's gone on, the farther the two sides seem to have grown. He added that he is struggling with the idea that the commission only needs to consider plantings, because the commission itself is an abutter of the site - through its ownership of the Condor Street urban wild on the banks of Chelsea Creek.

"I don't see how, as a good neighbor, I would accept what they are proposing," he said.

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Comments

Have the neighbors or Councilors offered any evidence that substations present real explosion risks? Are there any independent experts who could testify? I don't quite get this fight.

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Want heat? If oil or gas are on their way out, guess where heat has to come from!

Same can be said for air conditioning, so that poor people don't die in heat islands during heat waves. And for stovetops/other cooking appliances, so that people can cook healthy food instead of buying fast food. And for EV charging stations. And for electric bikes. And...basically the rest of the list of Democratic Party (i.e. Edwards and Wu) priorities.

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Air-conditioning is the main thing that adds to peak electric use that pushes the limits of the grid. All the other uses above are spread out off peak.

For most people, who don't have underlying health problems, AC is not a necessity. Reducing AC use is the key. Utilities often do this just by paying customers a few dollars a month to have a remote shutoff installed on their AC unit, which the utility can flip as needed to prevent brownouts.

That is because the number of days over 90F is continuing to increase, with more such days in a row and low temperatures that don't sufficiently cool buildings overnight anymore.

What we will need to see: increased efficiency, more insulation, reduced waste. "Splits" are becoming more popular because they both heat and cool, and they are highly efficient. With adequate insulation, actual furnace use for extreme temps will be rare, and you get AC in the bargain.

What also needs to happen is an end to the extreme refrigeration of large buildings. When people are wearing appropriate clothing for the weather, there is no need to keep a big box store or office building at 68F. The largest users of AC are commercial buildings and these places need to stop freezing people out. I shouldn't have to wear a sweater at work to be comfortable in the summer. I shouldn't have to bring a sweater to a store - and yet I do (Costco seems to be an exception). This is silly and wasteful.

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But spending money on energy efficiency like insulating and air-sealing reduces the AC load without asking people to sweat-in-place. By spending more money on energy efficiency programs, we can delay or avoid projects like this one.

Oh, and reduce carbon pollution too.

Great let’s put it in your town. Let’s put it right on the middle of your neighborhood

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But don't expect the infrastructure to serve any other neighborhood.

Here, Eversource has clearly indicated that the station is being built as a response to East Boston's increasing energy demand...

and of course Eversource wouldn't have any incentive to lie about that would they?
I mean, besides their business model?

Back in 2015 they said we would have blackouts, calamities and gout if the new substation wasn't built in time to serve all those new condos being constructed on the waterfront. Those projects and then some have been built out and have been happily blowing their ACs all summer long for a couple of years now and electricity demand in Massachusetts is still declining. What about in this particular "load pocket" you ask? Well Eversource has that data and they ain't sharing it. They just tell the ratepayer to drop trou bend over, and "trust us."

Maybe you're naive, maybe you've got stock in Eversource, maybe you're just kinky - but I don't trust 'em, because they won't let anyone verify their claims. Except for folks like the former Secretary of Energy and the Environment Matthew Beaton who now works for ....[checks notes] the energy sector. Or the current Secretary whose husband works for....hmmmm let's see...National Grid.

What does this project have to do with clean energy? This substation wouldn’t make anything any cleaner.

And the issue isn’t that folks want anything, except the folks who are developing Suffolk Downs. Why can’t the substation be built there, in an area planned for it, rather than in the water in a dense residential area?

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Where do you think the electricity needed for all electric homes and cars is distributed from? Getting rid of oil and natural gas means larger underground distribution cables, local substations, and finally step down transformers are going to have to be installed to support the increased demand for electricity delivery.

Electrifying everything means you can easily change the source of the electricity without needing to change all of the heating systems. You can bring solar, wind, nuclear, etc. online and reduce the carbon emissions coming from the grid.

Creek on one side, jet fuel on the other. That area regularly floods. I shudder to imagine what would happen if the jet fuel leaks.

I would think that the risks would be pretty clear.

Except when the folks you speak of on one hand don't live near the folks who bear the burdens of their desires.

Had eversource come in with a comprehensive package that benefits the people in the area, things might have gone differently. There is a huge need in East Boston's flood zones to relocate utilities above first floor level. Rewiring and installing energy efficient heating and cooling units would do this and reduce energy use. If they offered huge discounts or free installation it could happen.

Thank god I don’t live around the condor street and up the hill near Chelsea creek side, those people who live in that area are always experiencing black outs, I also feel sorry for those people who just bought condominiums in that area, get your flashlights and candles ready welcome to the 1800’s.

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As a result of this situation continuing , that area should be the least expensive in all of East Boston to buy real estate and I’m surprised at the real estate agents who do not address these black outs to their buyers ..

Crickets is the sound that was heard from politicians when we.. CHELSEA RESIDENTS... complained about this SIX YEARS AGO.

Of course now that people are running for office in BOSTON.. its now a hot topic.

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN WE NEEDED THE SUPPORT SIX YEARS AGO?

Once again, Chelsea residents are ignored but Boston residents are not. Gotta protect all those voters who live in these condos in Eastie now. Fuck Chelsea...right? AMIRITE?

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Lydia Edwards was not even an elected official in Boston 6 years ago and definitely not a Chelsea elected official. We're now coming for Boston City Councillors for not fighting hard enough for Chelsea residents before they were elected in a different city?

Try the decaf.

Why aren't you coming for your state rep on this?

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Everyday, I can look out my bedroom window and see the wonder of the new substation on Electric Avenue in Brighton. Eversource told us it would only take a couple of years to construct. I hope the company learned a lesson a two. They say they're going to build the East Boston substation to withstand a 500 year flood. It took them a year to figure out how to build a substation that could withstand an every-time-it-rains-flood. Their Brighton site sits on an old pond that was filled in turn of the 20th century. Every time it rained their foundation flooded and porcelain doll parts, clay pipes, and old bottles pushed to the surface through the mud. I'm sure many of you who drove down Parsons Street remember the daily impacts. I now have a high voltage line running inches under the sidewalk in front of the house because Eversource's plans never took in to count the old sewer pipes. Good luck, East Boston. At least your councilors are piping up. Good old Mark Ciommo was a cheerleader for Eversource.

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FEMA flood maps don't take into account local minimum elevations (Norwood Hospital) or climate change increasing the frequency and intensity of downpours.

In New England, the frequency of those downpour events increased 70-80% between 1960 and 2010.

They are trying to rush this in ahead of the statewide climate resilience standards that will be coming in over the next couple of years. I've noticed similar activity in the BPDA.

The problem is also in some areas (Quincy I am looking at you) when FEMA did the flood maps, residents didn't like that the flood area were now where no flooding had yet to occur (Thanks Global Warming) and residents were not thinking of what *could* or *will" happen and they lobbied successfully to get those flood areas changed so they will not have to get the special Flood home insurance which comes from living in flood areas. What good will that do when the seas really start rising, and they will.

When I lived in Quincy, it was projected where I lived to be a shoreline and I didn't live that close to the beach.

The only thing that will be given by Eversource to East Boston will be a brand new ITALIAN SUB STATION equipped with mortadella , Provolone cheese, peppers, artichoke, salami, and some ham.
Take it or leave it..

I can't fault the commission for being suspicious.

Michelle Wu is running a blatantly NIMBY campaign for mayor. This is just another example. No answers or solutions, just a big "No" to everything. Not a big Marty Walsh fan but the guy doesn't pander to the usual suspects in the No crowd at least.

have allowed unabated building. Unfortunately, this kind of stuff will go along with all the building because they have to get power from somewhere. Has the City tried to work with Massport and Eversource to find a better location nearer the airport?

It sounds like the sub-station needs to be near the creek (they mentioned being "water dependent".) Why is that? Do they use the creek water for cooling or something? Just curious.

Might be where the grid connection is located.

Dunno....

The land is located in a designated port area, which means it has been set aside by the state for water dependent uses, like ship repair, port facilities, etc. The idea is that these facilities are important and must be located near water, so some waterfront land should be preserved for their use.

This designation meant that Eversource had to argue that the substation is a water dependent use that could not reasonably be located at an inland site in order to build on this land. As I understand it, their argument was that some of the power that passes through the substation will be used by nearby water dependent industrial facilities, making the substation itself water dependent.

I find it astonishing that the state has provisionally agreed with this argument. Obviously substations can be located at inland sites, and many are. And given the existence of power lines, a substation does not need to be located immediately adjacent to a water dependent facility it will serve (i.e. the substation is located more than a mile from Suffolk Downs). And then there's the fact that mixing water and electricity is a bad idea, which seems to suggest that a substation is the exact opposite of a water dependent use.

Unfortunately our regulatory laws are written by those who are being regulated - so one of the accepted uses as "water dependent" is a substation if there is a river crossing at the location. There is an underwater conduit there. There is no reason why the conduit couldn't continue another 1600 feet over to the airport, which according to Eversource will be using about a third of the juice running through the thing.

On the other side of the Creek the line runs a little over a kilometer to the existing substation in Chelsea. So no, it doesn't NEED to be on the coast, it's just convenient. For them.

And of course one of the reasons why a huge swath of the streets in Chelsea are utter crap is because Eversource dug them all up to run the transmission line from the Mystic generating station on the Everett side to the substation on the Revere side. So no reason they couldn't move the substation away from a site that is filled in mudflats.

The corner of Condor Street precisely where the transformers will sit about 10 feet from has flooded every year since 2018 at least once if not twice a year. Flooded to the point that the cars parked there have to be pushed out because there's water up in the engine and in the exhaust pipes.

Also...Massport is paying Eversource to construct essentially a small substation (technically a switching station) on the storm-hardened, 24-hour security, fenced off and away from a residential neighborhood or playground airport property...1600 feet away.

Technically I believe this is what is called FUCKINRETAHDEDKEHD.

It's a bad idea and I hope the CC denies their permit.

I also agree the city councilors' involvement has come way late, but lay blame on Mayor Walsh - he made a behind the scenes agreement to move it from one side of the property to the other to placate Channel Fish, but since Eversource still owns the parcel I doubt we'll get the original vision of a soccerfield/public green space.

This article sums it up:
https://www.wbur.org/earthwhile/2019/08/22/eversource-east-boston-substa...

I'm surprised Adam didn't reference back to his own articles:
https://www.universalhub.com/2017/state-approves-new-eversource-substati...
https://www.universalhub.com/2017/east-boston-fish-wholesaler-tries-sink...

Is it too late to move the Northern Avenue Bridge to the site? That was a cute idea:
https://www.universalhub.com/2016/groups-move-save-northern-avenue-bridg...