The Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) today announced its decision to allow utility company Eversource to bypass 14 environmental permits needed to build a contentious electrical substation in East Boston. The decision comes after years of controversy as environmental groups, residents, and elected officials have pushed back on the project due to lack of evidence of need, dangers to public safety, and insufficient community engagement.
“This decision is extremely disheartening and disappointing, particularly after years of experts and community members voicing serious concerns about the project,” said Paula García, a senior energy analyst and energy justice lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “The project sets a dangerous precedent that energy infrastructure doesn’t need to be responsive to climate science nor community concerns and is a missed opportunity to deploy clean energy to that will benefit Massachusetts communities.”
UCS submitted public comments in opposition to EFSB’s decision, outlining the faulty technical aspects of the project as well as highlighting that the substation as planned is not resilient to climate impacts such as sea level rise. UCS also emphasized that the project as well as the approval process have failed to uphold environmental justice principles.
The substation proposal has been contested by community members and numerous lawmakers including U.S. Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Katherine Clark, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Massachusetts State Representative Adrian Madaro, and Massachusetts State Senator Lydia Edwards, all of whom have pointed out that Eversource failed to provide the public with up-to-date, transparent information justifying the need for the project that will cost ratepayers close to $50 million. Furthermore, the substation will be located along a waterfront in East Boston that will be at risk of chronic inundation later this century due to climate-driven sea level rise.
This substation is an example of the critical choices that energy utilities and regulators are making right now that could have implications long into the future. GreenRoots, an East Boston’s community-based organization and a UCS partner, has called out how the latest proceedings entirely dismiss more recent environmental justice laws codified in the Massachusetts Climate Roadmap Law.
“The fight isn’t over yet,” said García. “We are hopeful that Governor-elect Maura Healy—a longtime champion of environmental justice—will help ensure decisions around all critical environmental and infrastructure projects are made with consideration for science, justice and safety. We urge her to take a closer look at this harmful decision.”
García led a recent study that explored options to meet increases in electricity demand in the East Boston area with clean energy instead of the substation proposed by Eversource. According to the UCS analysis, conducted in partnership with GreenRoots, installing rooftop solar paired with energy storage on just one-third of triple-decker buildings in the East Boston area could address issues that the substation is purportedly aimed at resolving.
“It’s clear that there are more appropriate options for meeting electricity demand that would reduce customers’ electric bills and cut pollution, including global warming emissions, in ways that don’t jeopardize the community,” said García. “Clean energy opportunities are there, but Massachusetts decision makers have to be willing to see and support these opportunities for the benefit of their constituents and stop letting utilities stand in the way of what people need.”