Op Ed: Eversource Energy’s Very Bad Plan

By Peter L. Malkin

In June 2015, Eversource, the electric utility serving Greenwich, petitioned the State Siting Council to allow it to build a $140 million new substation and associated circuitry at the Pet Pantry site on Railroad Avenue.

Eversource asserted as justification that by 2018, there would otherwise not be sufficient electricity from the substation in Cos Cob to meet the town’s needs. The proposed plan would have included power lines that would have significantly damaged Bruce Park and caused major environmental damage.

In 2016, the hottest summer in the history of Connecticut, Greenwich’s electric consumption was less than 85 percent of Eversource’s projection and electricity available from the existing substation in Cos Cob was more than adequate. Fortunately for Greenwich, the State Siting Council, in an exceptionally rare decision, rejected Eversource’s request. Eversource is even now replacing one of the Cos Cob transformers, which should increase the capacity and reliability of the existing substation.

Eversource has announced it will be applying again to the State Siting Commission for permission to build the additional substation, at the very same Pet Pantry location.

The town administration has met with Eversource on numerous occasions to voice concerns over the impacts of this project, and had been led to believe that the new plan would avoid the prior dangers. The town has just been advised that Eversource will submit two versions of its newly proposed plan, one that, although less expensive to Eversource, incorporates none of the town’s suggestions.

The plan, as implicitly favored by Eversource, would feature a completely exposed 115,000-volt substation that would be within 20 feet of Air Gas, a business that stores compressed gas cylinders of propane, oxygen, acetylene and chlorine. The potential for a disaster is obvious. There have been instances of fires at such Eversource facilities. When one such fire broke out recently in a Greenwich substation, the town’s emergency personnel had to wait at the boundary fence until the Eversource crew arrived from Milford.

As part of the “less expensive” version of the proposed new project, the utility would install steel poles, from which high-tension wires would be suspended, in excess of 100 feet tall and some maybe as high as double that. All would be higher than every building in Greenwich. These would be located along a narrow strip of land between I-95 and the railroad tracks. Their installation would require all vegetation in this critical buffer area to be cut to the ground for a stretch of 8,500 feet. Not one tree would be left.  Furthermore, the town has force main sewer piping vital to the town only a few feet away from proposed poles in this same right of way. These sewer force main pipes might have to be relocated by the town, at an expense to the town’s taxpayers in the tens of millions of dollars.

Even more disturbing, at the project’s conclusion, the massive outages caused by weather-related occurrences throughout the town will in no way be reduced as they would be if distribution lines were buried as they are by Con Ed in Westchester. Furthermore, the residents of Old Greenwich that are fed from the Tomac Substation will continue to be susceptible to long duration power losses, since that substation will still have no backup.

The town has, through careful study and engineering analysis, proposed to Eversource a plausible, economically viable solution, featuring an entirely underground cable system connecting substations and an alternative location for a new substation, if it were really required, that would meet all of Eversource’s needs. Lamentably, the utility has set up the submission to lead the Siting Council to select the option with the lower cost to Eversource while concealing the danger and the major cost to the town, assuming that there is no way the State Siting Council will again reject its proposal.

The town must continue forcefully to oppose an ill-conceived design concept put forth by Eversource, mounting legal challenges if necessary. It is a terrible disservice to the state and to the taxpayers of Greenwich that precious state and town funds should be required to restrain Eversource, even though Eversource is guaranteed by its state tariff to pass on all costs of any new project to its customers. And further upgrading the Cos Cob power station would be far less costly to Eversource and its customers.

Peter L. Malkin is real estate investor, philanthropist, and president of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy.

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