For most Boston residents, Question 2 on this year’s ballot will be a bit of a head scratcher: an electrical substation in East Boston? What’s it to me? The project is very site specific: Eversource is proposing to build a high voltage electrical substation on a parcel that sits on the banks of the Chelsea Creek, wedged in between the new A-7 Boston Police Station, the American Legion Playground, and a field of multi-million-gallon tanks of jet fuel. “Sounds pretty bad, but it’s not my neighborhood, so it doesn’t affect me.”
Actually, it does affect you, or, more accurately, your electrical bill. Eastern Massachusetts rate payers will be footing 100 percent of the $50 million-plus that it will cost to build this thing, including Eversource’s guaranteed profit margin. But if it’s needed to keep the lights on, we should build it, right?
Interestingly, data on electricity demand from ISO-New England, the entity that manages our electrical grid, show declining demand for the whole region, the state, and this particular area. But Eversource justifies this project’s need based on its own data, which just happens to be proprietary and they won’t share it with the public. In other words, “trust us, you need to pay for this.”
And you will most likely be paying for this “white elephant” more than once. The street that this thing will sit on has been closed multiple times in the past few years due to flooding issues as it’s right on the banks of the Chelsea Creek. The shoreline of the property is eroding away with successive storms and projections of climate change impacts such as sea level rise, increased storm surges, and more intense and frequent extreme rain events, all of which conspire to make this locale sub-optimal for something you want to keep dry, like an electrical substation, which tend to explode when flooded, as was the case in New York City during Hurricane Sandy. Did we mention the millions of gallons of jet fuel storage next door?
Still, even if the disaster movie scenario doesn’t come to pass, flooding damage to this infrastructure will require costly repairs, and guess who’ll be on the hook to pay for it – you again. But at least those repairs will still provide Eversource with that guaranteed profit margin on their capital investments (you did buy Eversource stock, right?).
Snark aside, this project is bad planning and bad policy. Aside from the East Bostonians who already have to deal with the airport, oil tanks, tunnel traffic, and other environmental burdens, this project has been opposed by both our senators, our congresswoman, the district’s state senator and state representative, the ward councillor, at-large councillors and the current mayor.
Next week’s election provides the opportunity for the people of Boston to add their voices to the call for “No Eastie Substation.” Please vote “No” on Ballot Question 2.
John Walkey is an East Boston resident.