Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Arrogance of Eversource

 Eversource, the company that distributes natural gas through this region, wants to construct a 16” diameter high-pressure pipeline through Westborough, traversing residential neighborhoods along Flanders and Steven Road. It will pass an elementary school and two assisted living facilities.

According to their community relations “specialist”, the $21 million Worcester Feed Line Improvement Project is needed because “. . . we will lose the ability to serve existing customers and increase capacity in the region” which could happen before the decade is out.

“Increase capacity” is another way of saying “potential new customers” (their words, not mine) whom Eversource is actively encouraging to switch from oil to gas heating.

Last January, the Westborough Board of Selectmen invited Eversource to an open hearing to discuss their project. Eversource was completely unprepared to answer any kind of detailed questions from the public outside their canned presentation.

Subsequently, the Selectmen sent Eversource detailed questions to be answered at a later hearing, which took place on July 28th. Eversource again gave a canned presentation and would not provide any of the requested detailed information to support their assertion that the pipeline is an essential public need.

The question is why?

In my opinion, it’s because Eversource thinks they don’t have to. They think it will be a slam dunk to get their Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) permit application approved. Local opposition is just a piece of lint to be swept off their shoulder.

Let’s look at the pipeline from their perspective. A goal of any business is to increase its customer base. Nothing wrong with that. That’s capitalism.

But what do you do if this goal conflicts with a government’s goal, which is to protect its citizens and their property from an environmental threat caused, in part, by your company’s product or service?

Massachusetts’ goal is to “start to get off the fossil fuel rollercoaster”. By law the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors of the economy have to decrease 80% by 2050 which means Eversource’s revenues will decline precipitously over the coming decades. 

If I were Eversource, I’d increase my customer base as much as possible, thus making it more difficult to transition away from gas, as customers will already have born the cost of one conversion, making them reluctant to do it again. Will they admit that? Heck no.

The state is encouraging oil and gas heating consumers to switch to air source heat pumps, a proven technology which has been used for well over a decade AND which the state is subsidizing through the Mass Save program.

But Eversource lumps heat pumps in with “new and emerging technologies”, which is utter nonsense. Why would Massachusetts subsidize heat pumps if the technology was not proven?

Instead Eversource talked up their commitment to alternative energy – they devoted an entire slide proudly touting a pilot project at a farm in Connecticut to turn cow manure into natural gas. Wow, that’ll make a dent.

Their arrogant and dismissive attitude at the July 28th hearing insulted the intelligence of the Selectmen as well as anyone who was watching.

The Selectmen will again ask Eversource to address the Westborough’s questions in detail, which I fully expect Eversource to ignore as well. It all comes down to wanting more customers, plain and simple. They increase their customer base and profits; we deal with the pipeline’s disruptions and hazards.

What’s next?

The Selectmen have already gone on record as opposing the pipeline. The next step will be for the Town to engage a qualified consultant to review the Eversource application to the EFSB. The application will have the detailed information Eversource refuses to provide. We will have to pay for that consultant, but I think it will be money well spent.

What else can we do? Write to State Representatives Dykema, Gregoire and Kane as well as Senator Eldridge. Eversource will have to file for review under the provisions of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). This review provides for public comment, so exercise your right to comment.

Westborough committed to address climate change via Article 11 at the 2019 Fall Town Meeting. The Climate Action Plan task force will be providing recommendations to be integrated into the new Town Master Plan to lower emissions and move to alternative energy.

The pipeline project flies in the face of this goal. It will disrupt neighborhoods during its construction and present a long term hazard to residents along its route.

Westborough is not required to acquiesce to Eversource. Enough already.

Published in the Village News, August 8th, 2020

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