One of the things you keep seeing on the enviro/climate beat is powerful entities’ insistence on doing things a dumb old harmful way, when there’s a cheaper healthier easier alternative, right at hand. We’ve got the ongoing, bewildering Weymouth Compressor saga, always with fresh new dumb twists to the dumb plot. (Is this thing even on? Who knows?)
And there’s the proposed East Boston electrical substation, which faces a final vote for approval on Monday February 8, has been one such situation. (Thanks to the indispensable Miriam Wasser of WBUR for the report.) It was proposed by Eversource, based on demand data from 2012. It would be on a site right next to a.) the ocean, and b.) tanks of jet fuel. Given the rapidly increasing risk of flooding, you might think this is a bad idea for an electrical substation which might spark up if it came in contact with sea water, as happened in Superstorm Sandy in 2012. There but for the grace of God go we: With a slightly different trajectory, Superstorm Sandy would have hit Boston much harder.
But who’s listening? Meetings for community input seemed designed for anything but that:
The debate over the limited scope of community input erupted during a public meeting in 2019. It was a chilly February night and about 100 people gathered in the East Boston High School auditorium.
It was the first time the siting board held a meeting in East Boston since Eversource had proposed the project five year earlier, and there were rules: people weren’t supposed to talk about environmental justice, language access, public safety, climate change or flooding. They were only supposed to talk about where on the property the substation should sit.
As you may know, many of the folks East Boston and Chelsea speak languages other than English. Translation services have been spotty to outright-negligent, in situation where ordinary people (including the translators) are supposed to keep track of highly technical information. And they have to show up, again and again, despite very busy lives and the challenges of the pandemic.
Is there another, less disruptive, dangerous, polluting, ugly, and noisy way to accomplish the same goal? The Union of Concerned Scientists found an alternative way to obviate the need for the electricity from the substation.
Eversource could install solar on 700 three-deckers in East Boston, and battery storage (nascent, but it works well enough for these purposes). Cost, according to UCS? $28.5 million. Furthermore, this approach is compatible with a future strategy of using microgrids for future ruggedness in the face of climate-driven storms and surges.
Sounds better, right? Why do we do the dangerous, expensive, and unpopular thing? Why don’t we plan for a future in which we don’t leapfrog from crisis to crisis to catastrophe? Is that too much to ask?