Cambridge City

Committee Report
CRT 2019 #42
Jun 10, 2019 5:30 PM

A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, former City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation & Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on May 22, 2019 to discuss with Eversource any plans it has for meeting the anticipated electricity needs of Cambridge businesses and residents by expanding capacity on land it owns throughout the City, with a focus on sites in East Cambridge (Kendall Square and Fulkerson Street).


Department:City Clerk's OfficeSponsors:
Category:Transportation & Public Utilities


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Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair

Councillor Dennis J. Carlone,

Councillor Quinton Zondervan

Councillor Craig A. Kelley

Councillor Alanna M. Mallon

In City Council June 10, 2019


The Transportation and Public Utilities Committee held a public hearing on May 22, 2019, at 2:03 P.M. in the Sullivan Chamber.


The purpose of the hearing was to discuss with Eversource any plans it has for meeting the anticipated electricity needs of Cambridge businesses and residents by expanding capacity on land it owns throughout the City, with a focus on sites in East Cambridge (Kendall Square and Fulkerson Street).


Present at the hearing were Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Committee, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey, City Manager Louis DePasquale, David Kale, Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs, Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development, Steve Lenkauskas, City Electrician, Owen O’Riordan, Commissioner of Public Works, Kathy Watkins, City Engineer and City Clerk Donna P. Lopez. 


Also present were Bill Zamparelli, Community Relations and Economic Development Representative, Eversource, Todd Lanham, Siting and Construction Services, Eversource, Joe Mayall, Engineer, Fulkerson Street Project Manager, Eversource, Chris Detwiller, Senior Real Estate Specialist, Eversource Energy, Rich Zbikowski, Assistant Planner for Eastern Massachusetts North, Eversource, John Zicho, and Sean Shortell, Eversource, Chris Addis, Legislative Aide for Representative Mike Connolly,  Steve Kaiser, 191 Hamilton Street, Jim Gray, 2 Michael Way, Alan Greene, 82 Fifth Street, Matt Connolly, 13 Cornelius Way, Heather Hoffman, 213 Hurley Street, Abra Berkowitz, 632 Massachusetts Avenue, Dirk Henschel, 157 Pleasant Street, Lee Farris, 269 Norfolk Street and Melissa Lower and Joseph McGuire, Alexandria Real Estate.


Vice Mayor Devereux convened the hearing and explained the purpose. She stated that the hearing was being audio and video recorded.  An agenda was distributed. (ATTACHMENT A).   She stated that there has been a great deal of public debate about the proposed substation on Fulkerson Street which is adjacent to a public park and in a residential area.  A number of years ago, there was a plan for this site to have a residential use, and this became the expectation of the people in the neighborhood.  The news that the site may instead be used for an electricity substation has caused concern in the neighborhood.  She stated that on May 16, 2019, Eversource had a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) for another project, the expansion of an existing substation on Putnam Avenue, adjacent to residential buildings.  There was long and detailed discussion at the BZA and the case was continued to September 12, 2019.  She stated that in this hearing she hopes to discuss the Fulkerson Street site and the needs associated with the Kendall Square and East Cambridge area, and also hopes to touch upon what the City and Eversource are doing together to plan for the electricity needs of the entire City moving forward.  She commented that Alewife and parts of Cambridgeport around MIT are developing quickly and this increase in capacity might not be a one-time need.  She stated that she feels everyone in the city needs to be better informed about how decisions are made.


Mr. Zamparelli introduced the Eversource team and turned the meeting over to Todd Lanham, Siting and Construction Services, Eversource.


Mr. Lanham stated that he works for the outreach team.  He and his team did outreach for the Putnam Avenue project.  He submitted a PowerPoint Presentation (ATTACHMENT B).  He gave a general overview of the electricity system and how it works.  He stated that power is generated in some type of facility (solar, wind, fossil fuels, natural gas) and then connects into the system, often called the grid.  He stated that transmission lines can be either above or below ground.  He stated that substations are located between the transmission lines and the distribution lines, which take the electricity to customers.  At the substation, energy is converted to a lower wattage, usable by residents and businesses.  Cambridge is growing, and it is driving up energy consumption.  Eversource has noticed that the new demand for electricity is driven by a mix of office, residential and retail development.  Demand for energy is rapidly increasing, and it’s necessary to meet the needs of the residents and businesses in the developments that are being planned and built.  He explained that there are currently thirty-four projects either permitted or under construction in the East Cambridge area.  This is the area with the largest growth.  He stated that between 2014 and 2017, the projects placed into service added about 49 megawatts of electricity load.  He stated that between 2018 and 2019, Eversource is projecting that about an additional 21 megawatts of service were added.  He stated that there will be more demand coming online, so Eversource estimates it will have to meet the energy demand of about 100 additional megawatts over the next decade.  He stated that all the development in Cambridge has driven up the energy needs and will continue to do so.  He stated that Eversource is trying to plan for the increasing need for load capacity.  He explained that Eversource system planners regularly assess the electric system and develop plans to meet the growing demand.  He stated that Eversource’s job as a regulated utility is to continue to provide safe and reliable power via the distribution center.  He stated that in order to do this, Eversource has to provide immediate relief for infrastructure in the Cambridge area so that it will avoid burdens on the system equipment, enhance the realizability of the distribution system and accommodate future growth.  He stated that if nothing is done, in the summertime, when usage rates are higher, the existing infrastructure could become overloaded.  Eversource would have no other recourse but to shed or disconnect customers to prevent system overload.  Capacity in the system is nearing its peak now, so Eversource has to plan for additional infrastructure to address the needs. 


Mr. Lanham turned over the presentation to Joe Mayall, Project Manager for the Fulkerson Street project.  He explained why a Fulkerson Street substation is needed.  He spoke about the four major existing substations in Cambridge.  The North Cambridge substation will not serve the level of need that Eversource is trying to provide and it is too far away from the needed service area.  For similar reasons, the Prospect Street substation will also not support the need.  The East Cambridge lot has maximized everything available to it and cannot add more capacity.  At Putnam Avenue there are two vacant land masses and Eversource is trying to install a fourth transformer there to help address the load growth.  He stated that Eversource is before Cambridge’s BZA to get approval to do so.  He stated that on the other side of the land mass there are two easements that restrict Eversource from further development.  He stated that at Putnam Avenue, the original design has been modified based on community feedback.  The BZA hearing has been continued until September, which delays the planning process.  This transformer needs to be in service for the 2020 summer load.  He stated that from a construction and planning standpoint, Eversource is monitoring whether there could be a load risk for 2020.   If it is determined that there is an imminent load risk for 2020, a mitigation and contingency plan will be created within the next two months in case the Putnam Avenue project does not get approved and move forward in time. 


Mr. Mayall highlighted the load pocket that the Fulkerson Street site seeks to address.  He stated that this substation is intended to address the major upcoming load concern for the City of Cambridge.  He indicated the circle on slide 6 of the presentation and noted that this area is where Eversource has focused its search for the site.  He spoke about the site search criteria, including the need to have a site that can accommodate a minimum 40,000 square feet of development.  He stated that competition for available land is extremely difficult in the area, and that most developers can build a project faster than Eversource can build a substation site.  He spoke about why the Fulkerson Street site was selected.  He stated that the real estate search began in late 2013 and there was no property available in 2014.  In 2015 there were 15 sites, which were narrowed down to 8 sites.  In the end, Eversource ended up at the Fulkerson Street site.  The site was purchased in 2016 and closed on in 2017.  At this point Eversource held community meetings.  Because of the community concerns, Eversource began another real estate search and found there was no appropriate property available.  He noted that Fulkerson Street is not an ideal site for Eversource and they hear the concerns of the community and would like to find another site, but there is nothing available with a willing seller.  He stated that when we talk about what Eversource is trying to do with Fulkerson, it is not just the site on Fulkerson Street, it is an energy distribution project.  The majority of the project is located in Cambridge, but the project spills over into Boston, as well, because Eversource’s lines must leave the site and connect to the electric grid in various directions, to Prospect Street, to the Kendall Square area, over the Charles River.  He stated that he wants to get to the distribution system connection for Cambridge.  In conclusion Eversource is going to continue to investigate viable options for the Fulkerson Street substation.  He stated that the community has been heard that they do not want this substation.  He stated that he is looking at other types of equipment to make the building smaller.  The size of the building is still be evaluated.  He spoke about the steps that Eversource is taking looking at different configurations, height and depth are being reviewed.  He stated that with feedback from the community Eversource has gone back to the engineers and are asking what else can be done.  At Putnam a mitigation plan will be developed.  The Putnam substation is being developed hoping the BZA is granted because it is the best option at this time.


Councillor Toomey spoke about his disappointment on how the sale transaction took place.  He stated that in June 2016 there was a Purchase and Sale Agreement for 135 Fulkerson Street signed with 135 Cambridge LLC.  He asked who is 135 Cambridge LLC?  Chris Detwiller, Senior Real Estate Specialist, Eversource Energy, stated that 135 Cambridge LLC is the entity that had the property under agreement with the current owner and the entity that was permitting at that point was Cabot, Cabot and Forbes.  Councillor Toomey asked if this was true, even though Cabot, Cabot and Forbes did not own the property at the time because it was under a Purchase and Sale Agreement with Scarborough.  Mr. Detwiller stated that this is correct.  Councillor Toomey questioned the fact that even though Cabot, Cabot and Forbes did not own the property they could sign the Purchase and Sale Agreement with another entity.  Mr. Detwiller explained that a Purchase and Sale Agreement could give them control contingent on a variety of different things.  This is technically called near site control and per their agreement they had the right to purchase this under certain site conditions. Councillor Toomey stated that he does not understand how a Purchase and Sale Agreement could be signed with someone who does not own the property.  He stated that the sequence of events that occurred seems to be that Scarborough sold the property for $6 million and two hours later Cabot, Cabot and Forbes sold the property for $12 million.  Councillor Toomey stated that this does not look like something that is acceptable; and this has a foul odor to him.  Mr. Detwiller stated that when Eversource entered their Purchase and Sale Agreement, it was contingent on their acquisition of the property.  He stated that Cabot, Cabot and Forbes had a Purchase and Sale Agreement with Scarborough.  The Eversource Purchase and Sale Agreement with Cabot, Cabot and Forbes was contingent on their first closing on their acquisition.  He stated that this is how it was structured.  Councillor Toomey stated that it seems Scarborough was cheated out of $6 million.  He spoke about the trustworthiness of Eversource going forward and needing more transparency to establish trust.  Mr. Detwiller stated that these agreements are confidential, and he could not share this information. 


Councillor Zondervan asked about the statement on slide two, indicating that electricity use is driven by a mix of office, residential and retail development.  He requested that this be clarified.  He stated that he did not think that residential use is increasing, and retail is in fact shrinking.  He stated that, however, tons of office developments are being built in Kendall and that is what is driving this demand, yet Eversource is proposing to install a substation in a residential area to service this demand.  Mr. Lanham stated that there is a mix in types of development.  He added that the thirty-four projects did include a lot of commercial development.  This demand is not equally spread and is predominantly from commercial development.  Councillor Zondervan wanted to see the exact breakdown of the types of development.  He stated that the load of commercial development is over 60%.  He stated that on slide three exponential growth is being shown.  Councillor Zondervan spoke about the City’s trying to deal with climate change, reduce emissions, and Eversource’s plan is to continue to increase the amount of electricity that is being used in the City and most will continue to come from fossil fuel.  Eversource is proposing the only way to deal with this is to add more capacity, as opposed to reducing or managing the demand.  He asked why Eversource is not promoting installing batteries or installing solar to bring down the load demand that is being projected.  Mr. Mayall stated that in August 2018, Eversource was at 98% of its peak, and if the limit is exceeded, capacity needs to be built.  He stated he concurred with comments about batteries and conserving energy.  He stated that Eversource is the #1 utility for conservation in the United States.  The residents of the Commonwealth can go to Mass Save and obtain conservation means and methods.  He spoke about Eversource’s efforts to develop renewable sources of energy.  Councillor Zondervan asked why these technologies aren’t being brought to Cambridge and why there isn’t more promotion of solar on-site storage and micro-grids here.   He stated that there are a lot of other ways to deal with this demand growth that is being projected rather than bringing in more supply coming from fossil fuels.   He stated that it is not acceptable and has to be done differently.  Councillor Zondervan stated that on slide six the preferred area for the substation is shown, and if Fulkerson is not the ideal location, which is the ideal location?  He stated that from his point of view, the Volpe site and MIT’s power station are within the circle.  He did not understand why the solution to this problem is limited to doing complicated real estate transactions as opposed to working with the big developers, such as Alexandria and MIT, that are causing all this demand growth that Eversource needs to satisfy.  He commented that Eversource needs to be working with the big developers to put this infrastructure on their property, not in residential neighborhoods.  


Councillor Carlone noted that the in-house team of Eversource in 2014 recognized that there was a problem, and that Eversource needed to plan for the increased capacity.  He asked whether the 98% capacity level mention is citywide.  Mr. Mayall responded yes, this is citywide.  When did the City know of the increased need?  Rich Zbikowski, Assistant Planner for Eastern Massachusetts North, Eversource, stated that the load growth pattern occurring in the East Cambridge area was noticed in 2013.  In October 2014, the need to increase the capacity at Prospect Street was discussed with the City.  He stated that Eversource’s approach to system planning is to maximize the use of the existing infrastructure before ever adding a new substation. The first look is to transfer the load to an existing substation by either changing the system configuration or adding new lines.  These options were determined not to be appropriate for the amount of load that would be coming on line and the substation capacity amounts at the respective sites were insufficient to handle the additional increases.  He added that there is no doubt that this increase in demand is related to commercial development.  The various real estate opportunities in the Kendall Square area were reviewed after realizing that the existing substations could not handle the additional demand.  He stated that the first thing that Eversource tries to do is to mitigate the amount of demand through encouraging conservation, but this is not going to reduce the demands of the office buildings to zero.  He stated that it would be lucky to reduce demand by 10-20%.  He stated that there is a substantial amount of load coming on that far exceeds the capability of the East Cambridge substation.  Looking forward to 2020, a loss of one transformer in East Cambridge means the other two transformers could overload and Eversource would have to disconnect customers.  He stated that this is intolerable for Eversource and this is why other solutions have been proposed.


Councillor Carlone stated that it is hard to believe that Eversource is in a five-year window and now the City and Eversource is panicking.  He stated that the timing is upsetting.  He stated that the City just negotiated with MIT two years ago for the Volpe zoning, and the City requested a lot.  He commented that the logical location for a new substation would be by the railroad tracks on MIT land.  He noted that while in negotiations with MIT, the City Council was never aware of this situation and the needs for additional capacity.  What are the specifics for the Fulkerson Street site in question?  He stated that there have been rumors that the substation would be as high as 80 feet.  He asked what the plans are.  Mr. Zbikowski stated that Eversource is trying to evaluate approaches that are more appropriately sized for this general area and the designs are under investigation and have not been fully developed or vetted internally.  Councillor Carlone stated this is critical for the community to understand the minimum and maximum size for the structures. 


Mayor McGovern stated that he understands the reality that the City is in.  If these conversations began in 2014, the City Council did not know about it until the Fulkerson Street sale became public and this is unacceptable.  He wanted the City Council to be better informed about these conversations moving forward.  He stated that the City Council are negotiating with developers now for special permits, still without fully understanding the impacts of development on energy.  He understands that it is difficult to find land in Cambridge.  He stated that Kendall Square is becoming a neighborhood.  He stated that he does not favor putting this substation near a school in a dense neighborhood. 


Councillor Mallon stated that Volpe was a missed opportunity and had the City Council known about Eversource’s needs, they would have negotiated differently.  She stated that Policy Order # 3 was submitted on February 4, 2019 (ATTACHMENT C) asking about the height of the substation, because it is a huge concern to residents.  She further stated that the City Council deserves an answer.  She stated that she is sure that internal modeling has been done extensively, since Eversource has owned this property for many years.  She asked Mr. Mayall to answer yes or no, is this structure going to be 80 feet or higher.  Mr. Mayall stated that he cannot give an honest answer; the substation is still in conceptual design mode, and based on the input received from the community, the design has been torn apart and there are different configurations.  The new configurations could change the heights.  He added that Eversource is looking at different types of equipment that will change everything.  The engineers are putting the designs back together.  He does not have a height range to give to the City Council.  Councillor Mallon stated that it is not fair to the community to have this conversation without having an idea of how big this building can be.  She again asked him to answer yes or no to whether the building could be 80 feet tall.  Mr. Mayall stated that he does not know.  Councillor Mallon stated that she does not know why this hearing is being held, in that case.  This is what the community wants to know.  She is disappointed. 


Vice Mayor Devereux stated that at the East Cambridge Planning Team meeting someone from the Eversource team stated that the building could be designed to look like whatever the neighborhood wants.  What do substations in other communities look like, and are there substations near schools in other communities?  In Alewife, the substation looks like exposed coils, which is obviously not ideal.  Soon, 520 units of housing will be built directly abutting the Alewife/North Cambridge site.   What are the future plans for this substation site?  How much design control does Eversource have for a given substation?  Mr. Mayall noted that typically when substations are built, the facades are designed to blend into the appearance of the surrounding area.  He did not know if there is a substation near a school elsewhere.  He could do some research and get back to the City Council.  Vice Mayor Devereux stated that on page eight, both incoming and outgoing power flows are represented.  She asked whether this requires more digging than usual, if the Fulkerson Street location is far from where the power needs to be delivered.  This location does not seem to be ideal from a siting standpoint.  It is close to the residential neighborhood and at the far end of the circle indicating the concentration of power needs, which are centered near the MIT area.  The buildings between Volpe and Main Street are all clustered in the same area, but nowhere in the permit negotiations did the City Council hear about this development potentially putting a strain on the power grid.  She stated that if this is where the power needs to be delivered, Fulkerson Street is quite far, meaning there will be a lot of digging and significant disruption to the community.  Where would a more practical location be for a substation?  Mr. Zbikowski stated that they are hoping to find any property approximately one acre in size within the zone indicated on page six.  He stated that the closer the site is to the load pocket, the easier it is to interconnect to the distribution infrastructure, which would reduce the amount of digging in the street.  He stated that the load pocket is indeed in the MIT, Alexandria and Volpe area.  Vice Mayor Devereux expressed concern about the full impact of this project and whether it will add to impacts from other infrastructure projects planned by the City.  She noted that there is a need to coordinate and communicate about these projects to lessen the impact on community members. 


Vice Mayor Devereux opened public comment at 3:10 PM.


Stephen Kaiser, 191 Hamilton Street, asked who is doing the planning here?  He noted that the energy planning numbers have been provided by Eversource but where are the City’s numbers on infrastructure and energy?  He stated that he looked at the Envision Cambridge Final Report and the only thing that he could find was the statement about what the City can do to create an energy report but no evidence that this was done.  He commented that the City had an obligation to do an energy infrastructure study and it was not done.  He stated that this indicates that Eversource is not the guilty party here.  He noted that the City should have done the planning.  He asked who will pay for the design and construction of new transformers and substations?  He stated that the developers should pay for it because they are the parties who have proposed all the new development and caused the added demand on the system.  He added that Eversource is responding to the market, and if Eversource does not respond it will have to have black outs or brown outs.  He stated that Eversource did not create this problem; development and the additional energy needs created this situation.  He stated that the City is looking at 140 megawatts of additional growth in energy. He commented that this is tremendous.  He suggested going to Alewife to see if extra capacity can be used there. He stated that Alewife has 30 megawatts of capacity, which could help some today, but he did not believe an energy study was done for Alewife.  He did not know what additional load energy use in the Quadrangle development will place on the whole system.  Again, he stated that the City is short on planning.  He proposed 3 plans.  He stated that Plan A is the best version of the current proposal of what Eversource can do for both Putnam Avenue and Kendall Square sites.  These sites are linked.  He stated that Plan B is what happens if a one-acre parcel cannot be found in Kendall Square.  Then all the load would fall on Putnam Avenue.  He spoke about how much energy conservation it would take to make this work.  Plan C is to get one acre of land from MIT.  He noted that MIT has not done energy planning either.  He submitted his comments (ATTACHMENT D).


Jim Gray, 2 Michael Way, stated that he lives near Fulkerson Street.  He stated that he is a trained educator and he sees this as a jigsaw puzzle problem that is solvable.  He stated that in his work at the MIT Media Lab, individuals take a step back from a problem and zoom back into the true necessities.  He stated that with the right people in the room from different constituencies, the long-term sustainability issues in the City can be addressed, and the City can start planning for 40-50 years from now. He stated that he will get together with the various constituencies from engineering, environmental science, City residents, City administration, business development representatives and students to work on this.  He stated that we all need to learn how to do this better for subsequent planning decisions.


Alan Greene, 82 Fifth Street, said the sale of the site in question is viewed as nefarious by the East Cambridge neighborhood.  He stated that he is opposed to an Eversource substation located near a park and an elementary school or located in East Cambridge to serve Kendall Square.  He offered two alternative solutions.  The first is to remove one acre of projected development from the Volpe site and install the substation in this location.  The second would be to identify one acre of MIT property within the city and locate the substation there.  He stated that walking by the river he noticed that Killian Court is completely empty and suggested locating the substation at Killian Court.  He displayed a picture of Killian Court (ATTACHMENT E).  He submitted a petition started by Ilan Levy and Abra Berkowitz in opposition to the substation (ATTACHMENT F).  He submitted a letter from Ilan Levy who could not attend the hearing (ATTACHMENT G).


Matthew Connolly, 13 Cornelius Way, stated that there is something wrong with this process.  He stated that the Community Outreach Department at Eversource waited six years before reaching out to the community.  He noted that Eversource stated a specific need for an acre of land for a substation site, but they cannot provide the community with the estimated height of the building.  He stated that the reason for this is that Eversource does not want to tell the community about the height of the building because they do not want the opposition to organize.  He commented that Eversource could have reached out to the community at any point over the last six years, but they waited.  He further noted that there were opportunities to work together on this matter and Eversource chose not to, seemingly on purpose.  He stated that as a resident that lives near this site he will not accept anything Eversource tells him.  He stated that the February 4, 2019 Policy Order asked for an independent study and he would like to know where this study stands.  He stated that the City needs its own experts to evaluate this.  He noted that Eversource says it needs to find a site that can accommodate 40,000 square feet, with 80 feet of height, but he wants to hear this from someone independent who knows that this is true.   He spoke about the fact that Eversource cannot find a willing seller or host for the property.  He stated that the City needs to find willing hosts.  He stated that there are four zoning proposals currently on the table in the City from major developers.  He stated that the City Council has the obligation to bring the developers to the table.  He suggested not approving any increase in megawatts until there is a solution to this problem.  He stated that the developers caused the problem and they need to fix it.


Heather Hoffman, 213 Hurley Street, stated that the real story has not been told about how Eversource acquired ownership of the site.  She wanted to know who the real parties of interest in this transaction were.  If the City was double-crossed, those parties should never get a permit to do anything in this City ever again, but on the other hand, if people are being accused unfairly, they should not be treated as such.  She stated that Robert Winters went to Envision meetings and brought up energy planning and was told that the City was not discussing it.  She stated that this is malpractice.  She stated that she assumed that these instructions came from those who hired the consultant and determined the scope of work.  She stated that residents should know why this planning has not been done.  She added that this planning is sorely needed and not doing it is a disservice to all.  She stated that at the East Cambridge Planning Team meeting, Eversource, seemingly out of sheer helplessness, stated that it did not occur to them to go discuss energy infrastructure siting with the developers in the area. 


Abra Berkowitz, 632 Massachusetts Avenue, stated that more meetings need to occur, and the public needs the information requested.  She stated that she wanted to know what this energy would be used for, as she is speculating that much would be for lab and office uses, and she wanted more specific projections.  She wanted to have some idea of the concepts being considered, the models and renderings that have been created, that the public does not have access to.  She spoke about whether it’s possible the Fulkerson Street substation could be 80 feet tall and noted that the fact that this question cannot be answered indicates that it is a possibility.  She stated that substations are not safe and spoke about substation explosions and the contaminants released.  She spoke about an explosion in Queens, New York and noted that the public does not hear about the aftermath.  She spoke about a “blue glow” and the fact that nearby cars were damaged.  She stated that when one car was tested for a particular contaminant it was discovered that the level was above what is acceptable.  She asked what if the damaged cars where children on a playing field, classrooms or individuals out with their dogs.  This is about a dense neighborhood where people live.  She highlighted other substation explosions that have occurred in other states.


Dirk Herschel, 157 Pleasant Street, is a resident abutting the Putnam Avenue proposed substation enhancement.  He spoke about the residents’ concerns about health, safety and noise hazards.  He stated that residents live close to the distribution line which exposes residents to 16 times the intensity of fields that have been linked to Leukemia.  He stated that the noise would move 30 feet closer to his building.  He noted that residents are immediately impacted by this.  He stated that the overall concept that Cambridge development expanding power stations in residential areas to support commercial development is mind-boggling.  He stated that at the BZA none of the alternative options were mentioned such as the one acre of land from MIT so there are solutions.  He stated that Eversource has been disingenuous with the residents and are threatening brownouts.  He acknowledged that there are other alternatives.  He urged the City Council to do something about this.


Alysha Hearn, 165 Pleasant Street, stated that at every meeting with Eversource the residents learn more.  No one wants children to be at risk.  She stated that in her condo there are many families with children.  It is unknown what the health risks could be. 


Lee Farris, 269 Norfolk Street, stated that she is disappointed with the lack of planning on behalf of the City.  The February 2019 Policy Order asked for an independent study to be done and she hopes that the City Council follow up on this.  She wanted to know if the City is doing this independent study and when the results are expected.  She stated that at the East Cambridge Planning Team meeting there was unanimous resolution that the position of the East Cambridge Planning Team was that there should be no more up-zoning permitted until a good solution to the electrical power problem is established.  She supports this position.


Kelly Sherman, 71 Fulkerson Street, stated that the health concerns were her priority when she learned about this proposal.  She stated that she is disappointed that the City has reached this place regarding the City’s planning efforts.  She wanted an independent study done as soon as possible to make up for significantly lost time.  She asked about the criteria of one acre of land and how was this size determined.  What are the alternative approaches for energy needs?  She asked about the need for one very large site versus smaller multiple sites.


Vice Mayor Devereux closed public comment at 3:36 PM.


Vice Mayor Devereux asked if staff wanted to respond. 


Ms. Farooq wanted to touch on the question of planning and who the City is thinking about energy needs in its planning.  She stated that Envision Cambridge did not include detailed work on energy because the work that the City is doing already falls under the purview of the Net Zero Action Plan.  She stated that the work that the City is able to do consists of efforts such as addressing low carbon energy supply.  There is a study that will look at ways to green the energy supply system and the bulk will happen through the grid.  The Low Carbon Energy Supply Strategy study has been completed and engagement will be initiated with potential stakeholders in Alewife and in the Kendall Square area in the summer and fall regarding specific areas where there may be opportunities.  She stated that there are provisions in the zoning to encourage this usage rather than just using the grid.  She stated that there is a misunderstanding that the City has the capability of doing an energy study and has chosen not to do it.  She stated that the supply side from the grid is the most that the City could do because there isn’t this capacity in-house, the City could hire a consultant and come up with forecasting for energy for the build out analysis.  She explained that the City would not have all the information about the network that Eversource has.  She stated that ultimately this work needs to be done by Eversource.  She stated that the other reason that the City did not focus on energy use related to the build out numbers is that through Envision there was no proposal or recommendations for additional commercial development.  The City was relying on the K2C2 Study to discuss commercial development which was concluded in 2014-2015 time horizon.  She stated that time the City did have a conversation with Eversource and what the build out projects would be from there.  At that time the City was looking out to 2030 projections.  The buildout information was shared with Eversource. 


Kathy Watkins stated that in K2C2 the City pushed Eversource to think more broadly about the build out.  She stated that this is the first time that the City has had this detailed information from Eversource about the projections and what they mean versus dealing more on an individual basis with the City.   She stated that the City has worked with Eversource on the distribution.  The City has been pushing for the distribution and supply side be part of the conversations.  The City has worked with Eversource looking at the five-year plan, upcoming construction projects, opportunities to provide connections to and from the Kendall Square/East Cambridge area, looking at the Grand Junction and River Street and the alternatives to provide to have the infrastructure done in the least disruptive way as possible.


Commissioner O’Riordan stated that the City has success working with Eversource on coordinating projects such as Western Avenue and the Harvard tunnel.  He spoke about in the future minimizing disruption in the City and a need to develop long-range plans and to continue to work together to minimize disruption and maximize the benefit to the community.


Vice Mayor Devereux stated that she had extended an invitation to attend the hearing to every major property owner in Kendall Square, including MITIMCo, Alexandria, Biomed Realty, Leggatt McCall and New England Development, as well as to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. Only Alexandria sent representatives.


Councillor Carlone stated that because of strategy of using existing roadway or the Grand Junction for a connection Eversource wants this close to the connections and Fulkerson Street is.  He suggested taking out the energy needs around Prospect Street as it meets Somerville, the center point is along the railroad right of way, south of Main Street.  He stated that ever developer will come to the City for a Special Permit and part of the evaluation will be for Public Works and the Electrical Department evaluation of whether this makes sense and will not without this facility.  There will be some moderated need and cannot be changed overnight.  He stated that he will go to MIT to negotiate a piece of land to satisfy all the needs.  The City has eminent domain rights and he assumes that a public utility has these same rights.  Mr. Zbikowski said Eversource does have eminent domain rights, but taking property by eminent domain has never been done in Eastern Massachusetts.  He explained that it can only go for transmission orientation and may possibly cover the substation, but he is not sure how this plays with the distribution lines.  Councillor Carlone asked Eversource to look into eminent domain for the substation for the next meeting.  This has given a clear direction of what everyone must work toward. 


Councillor Zondervan stated that he is outraged; this is unacceptable.  He stated that with the latest IBCC report, the Health and Environment Committee heard from the Community Development Department recently, in its hearing on Net Zero Action Plan, that the City needs to consider a 45% reduction in emissions over the next 10 years from the 2010 baseline.  He noted that this is an enormous amount of emissions reduction that the City must contemplate.  He stated that there is no way the City can do this without Eversource and especially not if we are continuously adding more fossil fuel-based infrastructure.  Yet, this is what Eversource is proposing.  He stated that he is prepared to demand that there be no more Special Permits until this is resolved.  The City needs to have zero increase in grid power emissions in Cambridge.  He stated that there is no reason to add to the consumption of the grid in Cambridge.  He has achieved a 50% reduction at his house.  He stated that the buildings are lite up at night for no one; this needs to stop.  He stated that significant investments need to be made in demand reduction, renewable energy and battery storage.  He stated that this is where the effort needs to go and not in satisfying additional anticipated demand by building more power stations.  He stated that it is not okay to do this anymore; the future with climate change is going to be horrible.  He asked if there are conduits along the routes.  Mr. Zbikowski responded that this will be new infrastructure connected to the new substation.  He stated that there are no existing conduits at this location.  He stated that Eversource tried for their other points of connection and there are conduits at that location.  He stated that at this present site Eversource has to buildout in certain directions as indicated.   Ms. Watkins stated that Eversource needs to get from the substation to Prospect Street.  Councillor Zondervan said this further underscores the insanity.  Commissioner O’Riordan stated that it is important that the City did the Low Carbon Energy Supply Strategy study and if the City wants to move away from fossil fuels the need to strengthen the grid exists, and this is a conversation that the City has begun with Eversource.  He stated that the City needs to use renewable energy sources, but also needs a supply system that is greater than what exists today, in order to provide for this in the community and abandon fossil fuel use.  He stated that the City is not at a point to abandon or reduce the extent to which the grid provides energy into the community.  Councillor Zondervan stated that he is not suggestion abandoning anything in progress or reducing the amount of electricity use we currently have, but the City cannot be increasing it.  He stated that this can be achieved by local production and storage and the City needs to go in this direction.  This substation needs to be in Kendall Square.  He suggested putting the substation across from police station at the Verizon parking lot site.


Councillor Toomey asked how do we move forward?  He stated that the proposed Fulkerson Street location or any other residential site for a substation is unacceptable.  He stated that there have been several Policy Orders on this subject.  Policy Order #2 of April 22, 2019 (ATTACHMENT H) asked the City Solicitor to provide information on what legal authority the City has to determine the siting of these substations.  He stated that trust and communication is important, and in his opinion, this did not happen in the beginning of the process.


Councillor Mallon stated that the Verizon site mentioned by Councillor Zondervan is no better as it is across the street from the Cambridge Community Charter School of Cambridge.  She spoke about the independent study requested via the February Policy Order, which requested an environmental impact study for the health and safety impacts for locating a substation adjacent to a residential neighborhood and near an elementary school.  She asked if this process has been started.  Vice Mayor Devereux stated that the City Council has not received a response about this study. 


Ms. Farooq stated that the Policy Order was given to Eversource for them to embark on this study.  She stated that the City Manager did forward this Policy Order to Eversource.  There was to a report back to the City Council.   Councillor Mallon stated that no report has been received by the City Council.  Mr. Zamparelli stated that he will take this off-line and discuss this, as he is not familiar with the details of the Policy Order.  He will work to get the answer.  Councillor Mallon wanted information on where Eversource is in this process and a timeline for a response to the Policy Order.


Vice Mayor Devereux stated that communications were received by members of the public, and will be made part of this report as follows:


A communication from Jose Rose, 72 Spring Street, in opposition to Eversource’s plan to place a substation on Fulkerson Street (ATTACHMENT I).


A communication from Sam Murphy in opposition to Eversource’s plan to place a substation on Fulkerson Street (ATTACHMENT J).


A communication from Jeanne Koopman, 248 River Street, in opposition to Eversource’s plan to place a substation adjacent to the Kennedy-Longfellow School (ATTACHMENT K).


A communication from Rhonda Massie, 211 Charles Street, expressing concerns for the location of a substation in the community (ATTACHMENT L).


A communication from Helene O’Brien, 244 Brattle Street, in opposition to Eversource’s plans to place a substation on Fulkerson Street (ATTACHMENT M).


A communication from John Paul, 90 Spring Street, in opposition to Eversource’s plan to place a substation adjacent to the Kennedy-Longfellow School (ATTACHMENT N).


A communication from Bonnie Steyer, in opposition to Eversource’s plan to place a substation adjacent to the Kennedy-Longfellow School (ATTACHMENT O).


A communication from Tim Trapp, 377-379 Putnam Avenue, requesting that the City use a citywide master planning process with Eversource (ATTACHMENT P).


A communication from School Committee member Fred Fantini transmitting notification that the School Committee voted to oppose the Eversource plan to place a substation adjacent to the Kennedy-Longfellow School (ATTACHMENT Q).


A communication from Gretchen Kronenberg in opposition to Eversource’s plan for the substation located on Putnam Avenue (ATTACHMENT R).


A communication from Susan Johansson requesting that no substation be located near the Kennedy-Longfellow School (ATTACHMENT S).


Vice Mayor Devereux suggested that a working group would be helpful, as suggested by Mr. Gray.  She commented that it is unknown if City staff will participate in this working group. She discussed a motion to formally convene a working group with a timeline.


Vice Mayor Devereux stated that this is complex and there are different stakeholders who need to be in the same room, including property owners.  If the City is trying to help Eversource identify a site, then the property owners who control the sites that will eventually be served by the energy supply from that site need to be at the table.  She wanted to convene a working group and suggested that a place to start would be to confer with Mr. Gray, who has offered to assemble individuals who are knowledgeable from the MIT community.  She stated that it was a great idea to have the Kennedy-Longfellow School represented.  She wanted the City staff involved in this as well, and Eversource.


Vice Mayor Devereux stated that she hears what Councillor Carlone and Councillor Zondervan are suggesting about withholding or pausing discussions about future up-zoning petitions or Special Permits until this is resolved.  She asked if CambridgeSide’s proposed re-zoning and new development is included in Eversource’s projected needs.  Mr. Zbikowski responded in the negative.  She stated that the City Council cannot continue to discuss up-zoning petitions while this electricity capacity problem exists.  She stated that this is an immediate problem that needs to be resolved.


Vice Mayor Devereux made the following motions:


ORDERED:              That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide an update on Policy Order # 3 of February 4, 2019, requesting an environmental impact study of the health and safety impacts of locating a large substation adjacent to a residential neighborhood and elementary school, and other information relating to the size and rendering of the substation, and also to provide an update on Policy Order # 2 of April 22, 2019, requesting the City Solicitor to provide information on what legal authority the City has to determine the siting of these substations. 


The motion carried on a voice vote of four members.


ORDERED:              That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to convene a working group including members of the MIT community, members of the Kennedy-Longfellow community, property owners in Kendall Square, City Staff and representatives from Eversource to discuss the possibility of an alternate site for the Fulkerson Street substation; and be it further


ORDERED:              That the working group report back to the City Council no later than the end of September 2019.


The motion carried on a voice vote of four members.


Councillor Carlone asked for a statement from Eversource that without a substation there are potential problems. 


Ms. Farooq stated that the Council is not the special permit granting authority and that the Planning Board must grant a Special Permit unless there is legitimate and clear rationale for not doing so. Denying a special permit for other reasons could be subject to appeal.  She stated that it will be extremely challenging for the Planning Board to be in the position of not granting Special Permits during this consideration.  She spoke about the amount of electricity being used.  She stated that as the City gets buildings to move to Net Zero one of the mechanisms is to switch them off of natural gas and more towards electricity.  She stated that the trend for more load on the electrical system is likely as the City gets buildings to be greener.  She spoke about considering the long term, multi-decade horizon, and whatever working group is considering this ought to be really considering that the load may in fact be larger but that there will be less need for natural gas.  She spoke about these sites being repurposed and should be part of the conversation and that the time horizon of consideration be multi-decade.  Mr.  Zbikowski stated that this is a second follow up group because for the first group this is a precipice on top of the panic that was discussed.  He stated that the electric demand is going to have to go up and the question is how far does this major substation go. There will be major demand seen between 8:30 AM - 8:30 PM and if the City gets to Net Zero but it is difficult to get back to Net Zero.  There may be a need on this first substation to have one group and then another working group.  Vice Mayor Devereux noted that there is gas works on Third Street in Kendall Square, which is potentially moving to allow another development but may not be needed in 10-15 years. 


Councillor Carlone agreed with Ms. Farooq about the Planning Board operation but if a project is going to lead to brownouts without a definitive plan this is a no-go and a Special Permit cannot be granted. Public Works needs to state that they are there energy-wise or something is wrong with the Special Permit process if there is no electricity capacity for a project.  If built it may not get an occupancy permit.  He stated that the point is to put pressure on the big landowners to move on this. 


Councillor Zondervan moved the motion that the City Manager not grant any further Special Permits until this has been resolved.  No action was taken on this motion.


Vice Mayor Devereux noted that the Planning Board cannot legally deny a Special Permit but can continue the case.  Ms. Farooq stated that the developers could be requested to go to Eversource and get a letter stating that power will be provided to this site under the current capacity.  She added that beyond this there is no legitimate grounds for the Planning Board to continue to extend the application.  She explained that permits are extended because the Planning Board requests for a modification of the design.  She stated that the Planning Board cannot enforce an extension; the extension has to be granted by the applicant otherwise it is a constructive grant of the permit.


Councillor Zondervan stated that he will be submitting a separate Policy Order asking that the Planning Board not issue these Special Permits.  He stated that the Planning Board has the authority to do so otherwise why is there a Special Permit process.  He stated again that there is no reason to be increasing grid electrical consumption.  Electricity can be generated locally to offset the increased electrical demand that is being produced and put storage on site, do micro grids, demand management and turn off the lights.  He stated that it is not acceptable to increase the amount of grid energy that is being consumed when that energy rate now is 14% renewable; it is not acceptable. 


Vice Mayor Devereux commented that she does not know if there are any Special Permits in the pipeline between now and September.  She stated that in the best of all possible worlds a new site will be found and this problem will be solved between now and September and will not need to go to extreme measures of doing this.


Vice Mayor Devereux thanked all those present for their attendance.


The hearing adjourned at 4:27 PM.


                                                                      For the Committee,





                                                                      Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair

                                                                      Transportation & Public Utilities Committee



Meeting History

Jun 10, 2019 5:30 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft