Keeping the status quo

This week, the Boston Globe ran a story, Five things you should know about Jim Judge, Eversource’s new(ish) CEO. He’s the first new CEO in two decades. But if you were hoping for a breath of fresh air, it’s looking like business as usual. Jim started at Boston Edison nearly 40 years ago and has been CFO for 20 years. The Globe article paints him as a family man, stand-up community guy, trying to do the right thing in steering his multi-billion dollar corporation. Time will tell, but in the meantime, let’s remind ourselves, in response, of some things to know about Eversource. Nice guy or not, the company he runs doesn’t exactly come across as a pillar of the community.

Eversource are masters of obfuscation:

The vegetation management plan, project proposal documents, and FAQs are masterfully crafted in order to misdirect and placate, and rarely merely inform. They refer to clear cut as conversion from forested to early successional habits and habitat conversion and even a wildlife corridor. There’s target vegetation, incompatible trees and bushes. Their “Stewardship and Biodiversity Statement” says “Where our equipment intersects with nature…” What does that even mean? Never is a spade called a spade when they can call it a shovel.

Their statements on the environment are laughable:

The question in their FAQ about the proposed Sudbury to Hudson project doesn’t even make sense. “Q: How will the Project protect the environment?” “A: …the Project Team will work with local, state, and federal agencies to establish work methods that minimize impacts to these resources and implement mitigation for permanent impacts…”

Let’s be clear – minimizing impacts does not mean protecting the environment. Minimizing impacts de facto means you’re doing something that needs minimizing, such as cutting down trees, clearing undergrowth, disrupting habitats, and destroying wetlands. There is no way in any universe that this project could be construed as protecting the environment. There may be merit, in other contexts, in techniques that minimize environmental impacts, but trying to pitch this project as protecting the environment is just double talk.

Their statements on property are equally ridiculous: Two things – location and impact.

“Q: Does a new transmission line affect property values? ” “A: The new transmission line is proposed to be installed primarily in existing roadways and/or unused railroad property, not on private property.” Yes. Pedantically speaking, that may be true. But when your property line runs directly up to the land they are building on, it’s going to affect how you feel about it and how you use it, and how desirable others (ie potential buyers) find it. There is no believable way that proximity to a major change in land use, whether or not it’s actually on your property – from forested, disused rail corridor to transmission alley – doesn’t matter.

And yet, the FAQ continues on to say, “Eversource, and studies conducted by third-party experts, have not found any evidence of systematic effects on residential real estate values due to the visibility or proximity of overhead transmission lines.” They can debate six ways to Sunday exactly what the actual impact of having a 100′ steel tower in your back yard would be, but to say there are no effects?

New England utilities, including Eversource, have historically underbid to win transmission contracts:

An analysis of 11 projects between 2004 and 2012 showed that build cost averaged 79% over bid cost. Currently, there’s no penalty for these cost overruns. This does not instill confidence.

Construction projects deliver the highest returns for Eversource:

According to an Acadia Center report,  “Under federal rules, utilities earn lucrative rewards for constructing transmission—far richer than investing in local energy solutions. In New England, utilities receive as much as 11.74% on transmission investments —far higher than on other investments…” Admittedly, this is the result of federal rules, not the doing of Eversource. But it’s not hard to make the jump to seeing how it affects their decision making, especially with a CEO who has worn the CFO hat for 20 years.

Eversource lobbies hard to keep the energy status quo:

In the recent Mass. energy bill debate, lobbying by Eversource and other New England Utilities resulted in a tilt toward the House version of the energy bill which was much more utility friendly. They managed to kill Senate language that would have doubled the pace of mandates for utilities to buy electricity from renewable sources. Nationally, in the last 4 years, the nation’s largest utilities have spent $400 million in lobbying against rooftop solar, renewable energy standards and solar incentives.

Going forward, Eversource is going to pitch every ounce of guile at us, trying to convince us that they’re working in the interest of our community. Don’t fall for it for a second. They have one agenda, and one agenda only – theirs.