This past winter East Boston experienced a taste of what is to be our future in the form of a series of storms that brought coastal flooding onto our streets. Coastal resiliency has become a buzzword in the media as we debate how we should adapt to the inevitable impacts that climate change is bringing. At the same time, we have been addressing the cause of climate change by promoting measures that will help our society transition to energy and transportation options that result in less greenhouse gases. The City of Boston has been at the forefront of both these carbon-neutral efforts, as well as coastal resiliency planning, so why would this same city be home to a project that is precisely at odds with these forward-thinking initiatives?
On the banks of the Chelsea Creek, the electrical utility Eversource is poised and ready to install a high voltage electrical substation in an area where the streets have repeatedly flooded this winter, in close proximity to the heavily-used American Legion park on one side and an eight-million-gallon tank of jet fuel on the other. While common sense should be a good enough argument for not siting this infrastructure at this location, the project becomes even more absurd when you realize that it is not even needed.
As is the case all over the country, electrical demand in Massachusetts has been on a downward trend for nearly a decade thanks to efforts at curbing demand, increasing efficiency and the introduction of distributed sources of electricity generation. When Eversource developed this project idea nearly a decade ago they could justify its need on the basis of electricity demand forecasts from ISO-New England, the agency that manages our electrical grid, that showed increasing demand. Every year since then that same agency’s new ten-year forecasts have continued to curve downward to the point where demand is not just flat but actually decreasing.
Clearly there is a need to re-evaluate whether a project that puts critical infrastructure in a flood zone, introduces increased risk into a densely populated community, passes on all of its costs to the ratepayers and is not even needed should be allowed to go on. Residents are calling for an evaluation of this project with the new energy demand data but so far inertia in the process seems to have taken over. If it does get built, who will take responsibility when the inevitable happens and water and electricity mix?