Utility plans jolt Sudbury, Hopkinton, and Needham
Eversource has three major projects in the works to improve and maintain reliable gas and electric service to customers in Greater Boston, but all are facing stiff opposition from residents in Needham, Sudbury and Hopkinton.
A recent study by ISO-New England, the independent system operator for New England, found that there are inadequate transmission resources to serve the electricity needs in the Greater Boston/Metro West and surrounding area, and recommended improvements.
Eversource is proposing two new electric transmission lines to improve reliability and service to Greater Boston. One goes from Sudbury to Hudson, another goes from West Roxbury to Needham. In addition, Eversource is proposing a gas project in Hopkinton to improve service for MetroWest communities.
“These are part of a suite of projects that were identified by ISO-New England as being the best alternatives to meet a regional transmission grid deficiency,’’ Eversource spokesman Mike Durand said of the two proposed electric transmission lines.
Eversource considers multiple routes before selecting the best option for a project. He said the final route is based on reliability, cost, and environmental impact.
But residents in the affected communities say these three projects could have significant health and environmental impacts and are urging Eversource and regulatory agencies to reconsider the routes. Resident groups in all three communities have initiated petitions to stop the proposals, all of which are in different stages in the approval process.
“There is a push in Massachusetts and all over to bring gas to other places and we get that, but let’s be responsible,’’ said Lucy Milne, who lives near a proposed gas gate station in Hopkinton. “It does not feel like that is what happens.’’
In Hopkinton, Eversource wants to build a gas gate station on its Elm Street property to take gas from the existing main pipeline to reduce pressure and then distribute it to local customers.
Milne said the proposed gate station is 50 feet from homes, a few hundred feet from a school, and across the street from a day care. She said the station is noisy, and the mercaptan, a chemical that’s added to odorless natural gas to help detect leaks, smells like rotten eggs and presents a health concern.
“You’ve got kids playing outside that would be breathing it in,’’ Milne said. “It’s not an appropriate site for an industrial facility.’’
Eversource needs approval from the state Department of Public Utilities but is delaying its filing to consider other locations, Durand said.
“The town asked us to take another look and we will report back to them when we have that information,’’ Durand said.
He said Eversource operates 21 gate stations in 51 communities.
“The demand for natural gas continues to grow,’’ he said. “We determined that in this area in particular, having another point of access to the transmission line will help us maintain reliability for existing customers and give us another source for potential new customers.’’
In Sudbury, Eversource is proposing a new 9-mile electric transmission line running primarily underground along an inactive Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority railroad bed between Sudbury and Hudson. Eversource recently filed its plan with the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, which held a public hearing in Sudbury on May 25. The EFSB has the final say on the route.
About 700 residents turned out to decry the project and pledged to keep fighting.
“We felt that they listened, which is a different feeling than what we got from speaking in front of Eversource,’’ said Renata Aylward, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Protect Sudbury.
Eversource’s preferred route goes underground for 7.6 miles between the Sudbury and Hudson substations primarily along the MBTA corridor. The line would start at the Sudbury substation and travel northwest along the MBTA corridor, passing through short sections of Marlborough and Stow before entering Hudson, where it would travel underground within public roadways for 1.4 miles.
The company previously planned to use overhead transmission lines along the MBTA corridor.
“We changed our plan based on the feedback we received,’’ Durand said.
But residents and town officials say they oppose any plan along the railbed.
Protect Sudbury questions the need for the new line and has raised concerns about the impact to environmentally sensitive conservation lands and wetlands, home values, public health, and public safety. Among the health and public safety concerns are flooding and potential contamination of the water supply.
In Needham, Eversource is proposing work on the West Roxbury to Needham electric transmission line. Durand said there are currently two overhead transmission lines attached to the same towers along the route. Eversource plans to separate the lines and add overhead transmission lines along most of it.
In Needham, however, the right of way is too narrow, so the line would go underground for 2.6 miles along several residential streets starting at Greendale Avenue and ending on Chestnut Street. Eversource filed its plan with the EFSB last year and expects to have answer by the first quarter of 2018, Durand said.
Durand said Eversource needs to separate the lines to meet federal and state reliability standards.
“If something should happen to one of them, there would be less likelihood that both would be affected if they are on separate structures,’’ he said. “That is contingency planning that is required and is also supported by ISO-New England.’’
But residents, led by the group Concerned Citizens of Needham, are worried about the environmental and health impacts, particularly on students attending schools located along the proposed route.
The biggest concern for many residents is the potential health impact of the electromagnetic fields, EMFs, emanating from the transmission lines.
After conducting a public hearing on April 26 and listening to feedback from the community, the Needham Board of Selectmen has expressed concern about the route and its impact on neighborhoods. The board voted in May to recommend a route that avoids the Valley Road neighborhood.
Durand said national and international health organizations have reviewed 40 years of scientific research and concluded that EMFs from the use of electric power is not an established health risk.
“We’ve taken all of the suggestions and concerns made by the city and town into consideration,’’ Durand said. “In the filing that we made, it was clear the preferred route is the best option.’’