The first questions people ask when they hear about this project are “Is there a real need?” and “are there alternatives?” Nobody wants the power to go out in their community, but most people are also hesitant about having high voltage transmission lines and an electrical substation in their backyards.
The answers are “No, there is not a compelling need, and it certainly does not need to be on that parcel in East Boston. There are many, many alternatives.”
Need & Alternatives
Not according to ISO-New England, the independent organization responsible for determining the region’s energy needs and implementing solutions to meet those needs. ISO-NE has provided energy demand forecasts for the Chelsea-East Boston region through 2023, when it projects a net demand of 133 megawatts (MW). The three transformers currently in operation at the Chelsea Substation – which also distributes energy to East Boston – can collectively distribute 140.7 MW of energy while operating within their “normal” rating.
Indeed, Eversource itself has conceded during hearings that no additional substation capacity is needed if ISO-NE’s forecast is correct. By its own calculations, the peak energy demand for East Boston has DECREASED for two consecutive years! The peak demand for 2015 was only 108 MW – far below the Chelsea Substation’s capacity. We are at the lowest energy consumption levels since 2008.
ISO-New England did not recommend an East Boston substation in its 2015 Greater Boston Transmission Solutions Study. Eversource initially told EFSB that ISO-NE had recommended the substation, but Eversource eventually had to admit this was not true.
Equally important, even if the demand forecasts for East Boston necessitated additional transformer capacity, there is no need to build a substation in East Boston, or on this parcel. East Boston’s electricity is currently supplied from Eversource’s Chelsea Substation (#488), which can satisfy any hypothetical increased demand with one additional transformer which is already being stored there. Eversource is already planning to connect the Chelsea Substation to the Mystic Substation in Everett, which will increase its reliability.
The power issues in East Boston are NOT the result of a lack of transformer capacity, but rather distribution infrastructure that needs to be upgraded. The brownout in February was caused by fires under manholes in the distribution lines under the streets.
There are many superior alternatives to constructing a substation at 338 East Eagle Street.
As part of its application for this project, Eversource mentioned at least two of these:
1. Expanding the existing Chelsea Substation, which is currently powering East Boston.
2. Building a new station on Eversource’s land on Crescent Avenue in Chelsea.
Eversource claimed that it lacks sufficient space to expand the Chelsea Substation, but this is easily disproven. The Chelsea Substation sits on a 117,000 square foot parcel of land. By contrast, the proposed East Eagle substation site is only 16,800 square feet, roughly 1/7th that size! In fact, most of the equipment needed to expand the Chelsea Substation (e.g., another transformer and the attendant high-voltage switch gear) is already located at the site according to Eversource.
Even if the existing Chelsea Substation could not be expanded – which it certainly can – Eversource also owns another superior parcel of land nearby on Crescent Avenue. That parcel is (a) larger than the East Eagle site, (b) not located in a waterfront district subject to zoning restrictions, and (c) not located on eroding land that has been earmarked for “emergency stabilization” and wetland restoration by the Army Corps of Engineers. As such, both the existing Chelsea Substation and the Crescent Avenue site are superior alternatives to the proposed East Eagle Street location.
Beyond this, a new substation could be sited on the airport’s property, since they are by far the largest user in East Boston. Eversource can also explore purchasing other more suitable property – which they should be doing already.
Are there alternatives?
Costs of different alternatives (number 4 is expansion of Chelsea substation)