No one fired up to fight Longwood power plant’s expansion
Three decades after it opened amid fierce neighborhood protests, Longwood’s power plant is set to expand by adding a third combustion turbine.
The Medical Area Total Energy Plant, which provides electricity, steam heat, and chilled water to all Longwood hospitals as well as to Harvard’s medical and public health schools, sits in the heart of the area’s hustle and bustle at 474 Brookline Ave.
The plant drew street protests and a years-long legal battle in the 1980s. Two demonstrators were arrested while trying to physically block diesel generators from making it in the door.
This time, the process has been quiet: The only public hearing — held Jan. 28, one day after a blizzard — drew zero attendees. The proposal passed a state environmental review this summer and now begins a permitting process, which will trigger at least one more public hearing.
Rich Kessel, the plant’s CEO, said the expansion aims to provide more reliable power to keep the lights on and temperatures just right, for patients and sensitive lab experiments. The new turbine would run on natural gas, with ultra-low sulfur diesel as a backup fuel.
Because the new turbine is more efficient, the expansion should generate “no significant increase” in particulate matter emissions, and have an “insignificant” impact on air quality, said Peter Gluckler, the plant’s environmental health and safety manager. Two neighboring hospitals, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said they support the plan.
Still, some neighbors are wary. Alison Pultinas, who lives in nearby Mission Hill, said she’s concerned about people breathing polluted air — especially now that a 10-story luxury condo tower called Mosaic on the Riverway is rising just a block away. “What happens when people open the windows?” she asked.
“Putting another fossil-fuel-powered generator in a highly populous neighborhood seems like a dubious enterprise to me,” said Joel Schwartz, an environmental epidemiologist at Harvard’s public health school. A recent study he led found that fine-particle pollution is linked to higher death rates, even when the pollution is well below federal limits.
The power plant, which is owned by Veolia North America and North Haven Infrastructure Partners, doesn’t have new customers lined up. But construction is booming in the Longwood Medical Area. And Kessel said he aims to have the third turbine ready by June 2017, in hopes of feeding a rising demand: “You’ve got to plan for the future.”
Dozens of scientists and health professionals trekked to Longwood over the weekend, not to clock into work, but to play violins and clarinets.
Auditions for the Longwood Symphony Orchestra attracted 38 musicians, making it one of the most competitive years in the orchestra’s history. The volunteer orchestra, founded in 1982, plays five major concerts a year to raise money for health-related charities. It’s also become a rare opportunity for people from a range of medical professions and hospitals to mingle.
“This is one of the only opportunities for cross-discipline and cross-hospital collaboration,” said Dr. Lisa Wong, a pediatrician who ran the orchestra for 20 years.
Among those trying out on Harvard Medical School’s campus: Philip Gotwals, a 52-year-old oncology researcher at Novartis, who plays the French horn. He said it’s been 20 years since he has played regularly with an orchestra. With his kids in college, he was eager to get back in the mix.
Eight musicians landed coveted spots on the orchestra’s substitute list; a few others, including Gotwals, are still under consideration. After a year, the orchestra will choose two to three off the sub list to become permanent members. The orchestra gives preference to musicians who work in the medical field.
The weekly rehearsals at Boston Latin School bring together musicians such as Dr. Leonard Zon and Dr. Wolfram Goessling. The two trumpeters met — and started talking science — while sharing a music stand at the LSO two decades ago.
Zon, who directs the stem cell program at Children’s Hospital, got Goessling interested in his pioneering research on zebrafish. Zon later launched Goessling’s career as a zebrafish researcher. Goessling now runs a lab at Brigham & Women’s Hospital; the two still coauthor papers on cancer research.
“It’s been a great friendship,” Zon said.
As those friendships have grown over the years, so has the level of technical skill in the orchestra, Wong said. “The old-timers like to joke: If we auditioned again, we probably wouldn’t get in.”
In attempt to win over skeptical city officials, Boston Children’s Hospital has tweaked plans for a $23 million pedestrian bridge over Longwood Avenue.
The new plans call for allowing patients to check in from a kiosk inside the visitor’s parking garage before walking across the bridge to the hospital.
The revision is meant to prove that the footbridge serves a “crucial and necessary” purpose in helping the hospital deliver medical care. (Patients would still be able to check in inside the hospital as well.)
The initial bridge proposal met resistance earlier this month at the Boston Civic Design Commission, which frowns on building pedestrian bridges merely for convenience because they can sap city streets of foot traffic and vitality.
Commissioners are still reviewing the plans, with particular attention to whether they offer enough of a “public realm benefit” to compensate for taking foot traffic off Longwood Avenue.