In response to Eversource’s PR piece in MetroWest Daily News:
Eversource makes case for Sudbury-Hudson power line

“Electricity could be more reliable for tens of thousands of MetroWest residents.”

The Eversource high voltage transmission line project doesn’t address reliability in the sense that most consumers think about reliability. When your power goes out during a storm, it’s the distribution lines that are down (i.e. lines on phone poles along your street). Fixing that problem costs Eversource’s operating budget; building transmission lines makes Eversource money. The 115kV high voltage transmission line is for a theoretical peak load that ISO predicted a decade ago and which hasn’t happened. Load trend has declined due to energy efficiency. The article claims 7 years of study and only shows that Eversource has not kept up with advances and changes in energy industry.

Reliable electricity is possible without the high voltage transmission lines along the MBTA right of way. If it’s needed at all, there are other routes that would not be as devastating to the community and the environment as this one is. It’s incumbent on us as citizens and rate payers (who will pay for the cost of this project through our electricity bills) to challenge Eversource to prove the need before they clear cut the forest. If they can prove the need, we need to demand they site the line responsibly.

“A bike path could connect to a regional grid of trails.”

Their imagined future bike path would be better built without the planned damage of the Eversource transmission lines. Sudbury has consistently voted for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail funding and supports it. The opposition is against Eversource, not a rail trail and tying a rail trail to Eversource has, according to Sudbury Town Manager, Melissa Rodrigues in a recent Boston Globe article “… halted most and likely all support for the MCRT in Sudbury.”

Eversource is not providing a foundation for a rail trail, they are clear cutting, then building a utility corridor for their own use while at the same time destroying sensitive conservation land. A 30 to 50 foot wide clearing for a utility corridor is nothing like a 16 foot wide rail trail still connected to its surrounding nature. The impacts to bordering vegetated wetlands for the ENTIRE 23 mile proposed MCRT rail trail (from Waltham to Berlin) is a fraction of the impacts of the 9 mile Eversource proposed Sudbury to Hudson transmission line. Laying pavement across an old rail bed for a rail trail does not compare to invasive trenching of the underground line, and the tractor trailer sized underground splice vaults that would be part of the Eversource transmission line, upon which a bike path might be built.

Eversource doesn’t make bike paths. They never have. They make transmission line projects.

“Some trees and shrubs cleared for construction could be making a comeback.”

Maybe. But so could invasive species as they find purchase in the new clear cut. Not only would you have permanent destruction to trees, but killing off (direct mortality is how Eversource puts it in their project plan) to creatures using the woodland to feed, travel, find cover, nest, and rear their young. Take a walk or a ride along the transmission lines in Wayland and observe the overgrown undergrowth. There are shrubs, but also lots of invasive species and few trees. There’s plenty of evidence to show that the environment they destroy during construction and “maintain” thereafter, does not recover to its original form. Some habitats involved are globally rare – destroying them for an overgrown linear weed patch is not a comeback.

“Residents and local officials, of course, warn the transmission line would irreparably damage natural resources along the route, lowering property values and threatening the water supply in the process.”

The article fails to mention the many state, federal officials and environmental advocacy groups who also oppose the high voltage transmission lines. Possibly because there are so many, and editorial space is limited.

Here’s a more complete list of opposition to date:

  • State Senator Jamie Eldridge; State Rep Carmine Gentile, State Rep. Kate Hogan, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, US Rep. Niki Tsongas, US Rep. Katherine Clark, US Senator Ed Markey
  • Local environmental groups: Sudbury Valley Trustees, OARS, Friends of Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge
  • State and Federal environmental Groups: Environmental League of Mass, Clean Water Action, Mass Sierra Club, Mass Audubon, US Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service

That’s a lot of opposition. Maybe they’re on to something.

“Infrastructure in general isn’t popular…What we’re trying to do is move forward… in a responsible manner.”

It’s not responsible to destroy a natural habitat
It’s not responsible to threaten drinking water supply
It’s not responsible to clear cut a forest that supports aquifer recharge and flooding control
It’s not responsible to do invasive trenching in sensitive wetlands on a contaminated rail bed
It’s not responsible to do these things in a way that puts people and the environment in jeopardy
It’s not responsible to build infrastructure on the backs of people’s property values and the environment
It’s not responsible to spend rate payers’ money to build something that we don’t need in the first place

“It isn’t discretionary that we move forward,” Clarke said. “The ISO identifies these needs.”

What’s not mentioned are the serious questions about the ISO’s assessment of need in this case. This is not an opinion, this is based on solid research by highly qualified experts, including the Acadia Center. The Acadia Center documented the flawed ISO process and overstated claims of “need.” Specific to this project, in comments to the Energy Facilities Siting Board, they conclude “Lack of confidence in analytical justification of the Sudbury-Hudson Transmission Reliability Project and potential financial conflicts raise significant concerns about the true need for this project.” Eversource can say what they want, but it’s just words. Show us the numbers.

In the ISO’s own words “That need is primarily based on an analysis of pre-2013 conditions.” “We are kind of past the point now where we should have got these upgrades into service,” Clarke said.”

We couldn’t disagree more. Real data from pre-2013 conditions shows that the need was overstated. And energy options have vastly expanded since then – renewables, non-transmission alternatives, storage, efficiency, have all grown exponentially in that time.

“Along the railroad corridor, underground design (Eversource’s preference) is estimated at $91 million and overhead design is estimated at $44 million.

Cost estimate are based on -25%/+50% as allowed by law. That means the $91m price tag for the underground route could really be as much as $137 million, which is a lot closer to the under street option, which is in the filing and the article doesn’t mention, priced at $110 million. The under street option has NO environmental impact and could be sited in an existing utility corridor.

Eversource has played fast and loose with numbers from the beginning, overestimating the cost of routes they want to eliminate and lowballing routes they prefer. And they play fast and loose on impacts, developing impact weighting systems that include “built environment” when looking at environmental impact, and rating temporary traffic disruption of an under street route higher than permanent environmental damage. And they change their story repeatedly. In the April EFSB filing, 40 to 50 feet of tree clearing is specified at splice vault locations, but in the Environmental Notification Filing in June, it simply says 40 feet – what’s an extra 25% of clearing width anyway? We don’t trust those numbers and they constantly change. Again, it’s incumbent on us to remain watchful as citizens and rate payers, to hold Eversource’s feet to the fire and to not take what they say on faith. There is too much to lose. The Siting Board must make its decisions based on fact, not fiction.

Eversource has their story. The Town of Sudbury and Protect Sudbury have the facts.