Eversource officials say they are altering plans for a new electric transmission line to address concerns raised by Sudbury residents and town officials, but opponents say the company’s preferred route along an MBTA rail bed still presents serious financial, environmental and public health risks.
A company spokesman said Eversource is putting the finishing touches on four options that will be presented to the Board of Selectmen in Sudbury, Hudson, and Stow and the City Council in Marlborough this fall before a final plan is submitted to the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board for approval.
Mike Durand, an Eversource spokesman, said the company delayed a planned June filing so officials could meet with residents, town officials and other stakeholders to get more input.
“Part of the process is to get feedback and we take that seriously,’’ Durand said. “We felt it was time well spent because we were addressing these concerns. We have gone back and looked at our options and now we’re working with the towns to get additional feedback.’’
Eversource officials met with the advocacy group Protect Sudbury for the first time Aug. 25 to outline the need and the new options for the transmission line. Three of the four options are on the company’s preferred 9-mile route along the MBTA rail bed. The fourth option, a 10.5-mile alternative route, calls for putting all lines underneath Sudbury streets.
While residents said they appreciated Eversource opening the lines of communication, they are steadfast in their opposition to any plan that calls for overhead or underground transmission wires along the rail bed.
“That’s a non-starter,’’ said Ray Phillips, president of Protect Sudbury. “When you look at what’s being proposed, you realize it’s a flawed route. It has the worst of every possible outcome – it ruins Sudbury’s historic district, goes over the backyards of 300 residents and through protected conservation area, and it could poison the town’s water supply.’’
The energy company proposed a plan last winter to erect 4.3 miles of overhead lines in Sudbury and 4.6 miles of overhead and underground lines in Hudson.
Eversource’s original plan, and one that is still on the table, called for clear-cutting an 82-foot-wide swath through dense woods along the length of a right-of-way along an MBTA line to make room for high-voltage above-ground power lines through Sudbury neighborhoods, in conservation land, and along a national wildlife refuge.
Eversource says a recent study by ISO-New England, the independent system operator for New England, concluded that there are inadequate transmission resources to serve the electricity needs in the Greater Boston/Metro West and surrounding area. This new line would help address those needs, the company says.
Outraged residents formed Protect Sudbury and have been working with town, state, and federal officials to fight the plan, which they say would do irreparable harm to the community by destroying conservation land and wildlife, potentially contaminating the water supply through the use of herbicides, and decimating home values.
In response to the concerns, Eversource took a step back and spent the summer working on three variations along its preferred MBTA route and an alternative route under streets, Durand said.
The rail bed options are: One that’s all above-ground power lines, a second that’s all underground lines, and a third in which the lines in Sudbury would be underground and those in Hudson above-ground.
Overhead lines require a right-of-way clearing of 82 feet, while the underground lines would require a 30-foot right of way clearing.
Durand said Eversource will submit its list of options to the state siting board, which will ultimately make the final decision.
Phillips said residents will fight any plan that calls for lines along the rail bed.
“The only acceptable alternative is to not do it or to put in under the street so it doesn’t disrupt the lives of residents,’’ Phillips said. “That’s what we’re targeting as an outcome and we think it’s perfectly reasonable and affordable.’’
According to Eversource, the cost for a route using all overhead lines along the MBTA rail bed is $37 million, compared to $113 million for all lines underneath streets. The cost for underground lines along the MBTA route is $85 million compared to $75 million for a mix of underground and overhead lines.
Durand said that in addition to electrical and geographic feasibility, cost must be considered because the regional electricity customers ultimately pay for the transmission system upgrades.
Earlier this spring, the Sudbury Board of Selectman voted unanimously to oppose the project and the board continues to actively voice its concerns about it, said Town Manager Melissa Murphy Rodrigues.
She said the town opposes any option that includes overhead lines.
“We’re hearing very loudly and clearly from residents that they do not want to see those overhead lines running through the community,’’ she said. The board recently sent a letter to state Representative Thomas Golden and Senator Benjamin Downing outlining the potential impact to the town.
“The proposed Eversource project provides no direct benefit to the Town of Sudbury,” said Board of Selectmen Chair Susan Iuliano. “Despite this, our residents and businesses are being asked to shoulder an enormous financial burden. Not only does this fundamentally flawed Eversource project negatively impact the quality of life in our community, it presents a number of very serious financial, environmental and public health risks.’’Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.