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East Boston substation construction will start soon with big new price tag

Eversource began sending flyers to East Boston residents about upcoming construction work on the East Boston substation. (Carrie Jung/WBUR)
Eversource began sending flyers to East Boston residents about upcoming construction work on the East Boston substation. (Carrie Jung/WBUR)

The utility Eversource will begin construction on a controversial electrical substation in East Boston in January, almost eight years after it first proposed the project.

The company began distributing flyers this week to nearby residents, notifying them that work will begin soon and last approximately two years.

“As part of our everyday effort to deliver reliable energy to our customers and communities, we want to let you know next month we will be starting construction of the East Eagle Substation — the final phase of the Mystic-East Eagle-Chelsea Reliability Project,” the notification said. “Please be assured that this work will not interrupt your electric service.”

Eversource spokesman Chris McKinnon tells WBUR the company does not have an official start date for construction, but plans to determine one within the coming weeks. At that point, he added, the company will send out a second round of flyers, giving residents at least a week's notice before activities begin.

"It is imperative to begin construction as soon as possible in order to address the existing electric capacity constraints in the Chelsea and East Boston areas," he wrote in an email.

Also this week, Eversource informed members of the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board that it needed to increase the price tag of the ratepayer-funded project. Instead of the $66 million it estimated the project would cost in 2019, the company’s new projections put the total cost closer to $103 million.

“The increase is caused by substantial increases in labor, labor-related costs, and material and equipment costs occurring since 2019,” the company wrote in a state filing. Eversource also said inflation and supply chain disruptions have contributed to rising costs.

John Walkey of GreenRoots, the environmental nonprofit that has been leading the fight against the substation, called the news "disheartening" — especially following other recent losses project opponent have endured.

Late last month, Eversource received a special state certificate from the energy siting board that allows it to bypass 14 local environmental permits, and a few weeks before that, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a 2021 siting board decision to green light the project.

“We knew they were going to hit the ground running after the [siting board] decision,” Walkey said. “We didn't necessarily think that they'd be doing it right before Christmas.”

GreenRoots and the Conservation Law Foundation say they plan to appeal the special environmental certificate soon, but Walkey said he’s not optimistic that they will be able to get a hearing and an injunction in enough time to stop construction.

Instead, they view incoming Gov. Maura Healey as their biggest asset in fighting this project. Healey has criticized the project in the past, and they hope she will find a way to stop it.

The location of the proposed electrical substation in East Boston (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The location of the proposed electrical substation in East Boston (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Substations are an important part of the energy grid, and the one planned for East Boston will convert high-voltage electricity from a transmission line running under Chelsea Creek to a lower voltage so it can be sent through overhead power lines and used in peoples’ homes.

Eversource first proposed this project in 2014 as part of a larger energy reliability project for the East Boston, Chelsea and Everett area. The company says the substation is needed because of growing electrical demand in the area and will not pose a risk to nearby residents.

But those who oppose the project maintain its location is dangerous and inappropriate. It will sit near a flood-prone area of Chelsea Creek, across the street from a popular playground and near huge tanks of jet fuel.

Residents and politicians have tried for years to persuade Eversource to move the substation onto airport property or near the future Suffolk Downs development, but their attempts have been unsuccessful.

"It's frustrating ... to have state agencies give all this lip service about environmental justice, and then you see what comes down the pike and what they're just fine with — like jacking the price up another $40 million and passing that on to ratepayers,” Walkey said.

“Here's one place where we're just trying to improve a little bit of our corner of the neighborhood. And between the city, the utility companies, the state — everybody has lined up to say, no, you're not going to be able to do that.”

Related:

Miriam Wasser Twitter Senior Reporter, Climate and Environment
Miriam Wasser is a reporter with WBUR's climate and environment team.

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