State’s Energy Facilities Siting Board Approves Controversial Substation

Despite widespread community opposition as well as opposition from over a dozen Massachusetts elected officials the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) unanimously approved Eversource’s highly controversial plan to build a new substation in East Boston at the City Yards in East Eagle Square on Monday afternoon.

In a marathon meeting that lasted several hours and the adoption of several amendments to Eversource’s plan that included a safety plan, flood zone management and community mitigation the board eschewed Eastie’s already overburdened industrial infrastructure and rubber stamped the plan.

Despite state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides saying at Monday’s hearing that the substation would be placed in a “heavily, heavily industrialized area within an environmental justice community that has historically suffered disproportionate environmental harms and a heavy burden of infrastructure” she still voted in favor of Eversource’s plans as an EFSB board member.

During the hearing Theoharides dismissed historic calls for leaders to begin exploring a move to more renewable energy and begin taking climate change seriously as a ‘false politically motivated narrative”.

“This context has weighed heavily on my mind as I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about this decision, since our last meeting,” said Theoharides. “The notion that a substation is part of a fossil fuel past is a false politically motivated narrative. Substations are a piece of infrastructure that will be critical in our ever growing electrification of building and transportation sectors.”

Although she conceded that substations may deliver increasing amounts of clean and renewable energy produced by wind and solar in the future.

But as of now Theoharides said, “the communities of East Boston and Chelsea have a right to reliable electricity”.

John Walkey, an Eastie resident and member of the group GreenRoots who has been fighting the substation plan said EFSB’s decision, while disappointing, is hardly surprising.
“We know that our national regulatory system for our energy sector is dominated by the regulated industry, so why should Massachusetts be any different?,” said Walkey. “It does really expose the hypocrisy of those who talk up climate resiliency and social equity while at the same time continue accepting money from corporations like Eversource and effectively doing their bidding. This is not what democracy looks like; it is what systemic environmental racism looks like. And this is not the end of this fight by a long shot.”

Walkey said activists plan to appeal this decision to the State Supreme Judicial Court and will be challenging their application for a Department of Environmental Protection Waterways Division Chapter 91 license.

“This isn’t a fight you walk away from because this is where we live, where our children play, and where we already grapple with so many other environmental burdens that affect our health,” said Walkey. “If they can convince us that this substation is needed, which they have yet to do, they will still have to convince us that Massport, by far the largest single user of electricity in East Boston, is not the most appropriate and sensible location for it.”

The substation was approved to be sited at the City Yards back in 2017. The proposal voted on by the EFSB on Monday was to allow Eversource to move the proposed substation to western edge of the City Yards and further away from American Legion Playground.

Rep. Adrian Madaro who lives on Eagle Hill with his wife maintained that the substation proposal is the wrong idea, provides the wrong energy source, and is in the wrong location.

“East Boston continues to be overwhelmed by more than our fair share of environmental burdens. We don’t need another,” said Madaro. “My wife and I are expecting our first child and will be raising our family on Eagle Hill. Our kids will play at the playground right across from this proposed project, as I did as a child. Should this project proceed, our children will grow up with this substation and all the effects it brings. East Boston is well known as an environmental justice community that has historically dealt with one of the most  disproportionate shares of environmental burdens in the Commonwealth.”

Madaro went on to say that Eastoe residents suffer from a variety of environmental burdens including a major international airport, a highway running through the neighborhood, oil tanks along the shoreline adjacent to this project site, and more.

“This misguided substation proposal should not move forward. It will become yet another environmental burden on a community which has shouldered more than its fair share,” he said “Throughout the public process, my colleagues and I, in addition to countless residents of East Boston have raised several important and well-founded concerns regarding the substation proposal. Chief among them is the proposed location and the safety concerns it presents.”

The proposed substation is sited on the waterfront of Chelsea Creek and would be located in a flood zone as recognized by the City of Boston.

“With well documented flooding of the area during several major storm events in the past few years, and increased flood risk of the East Boston shoreline due to climate change a constant factor considered by state and city agencies in planning processes across the neighborhood, concerns about locating a major electrical substation in this area are not unwarranted,” said Madaro. “Moreover, the substation is located in close proximity to a large field of oil tanks along the creek, another potential safety risk. Such concerns are further compounded by the fact that the substation lies on the edge of the Eagle Hill neighborhood, a densely populated working-class area, and directly abuts two city parks, the American Legion Playground and the Condor Street Urban Wild, which are frequented by countless residents.”

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