Massachusetts regulators grant zoning exemptions in relation to proposed substation project

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities said that construction of the projects is to begin within three years of the order’s date

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU), in a May 23 final order, granted NSTAR Electric’s d/b/a Eversource (NYSE:ES) petition in which the company sought individual exemptions from the operation of the Boston, Mass., Zoning Code in relation to the company’s proposed modifications to the existing substation, Station #385 (the K Street substation).

As noted in the final order, Eversource in September 2017 filed a petition with the DPU requesting individual and comprehensive zoning exemptions from the operation of the Boston Zoning Code under Section 6 of Chapter 665 of the Acts of 1956 in relation to the company’s proposed modifications to the the K Street substation, located in Boston.

The company proposes to:

  • Install a 345-kV 160 MVar voltage regulator and related equipment, along with the conversion of an existing 345-kV straight bus to a ring bus – the Voltage Regulator Project
  • Build a new perimeter fence and other related security improvements at the substation – the Security Fence Project

With regard to the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Voltage Regulator Project, Eversource seeks certain exemptions to avoid the need for a conditional use permit and several variances, the DPU added. Regarding the Security Fence Project, Eversource stated that the comprehensive zoning relief granted by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board in 2005 in connection with modifications to a substation approved in “NSTAR/Stoughton” is sufficient to allow some, but not all, of the anticipated work. As such, the DPU added, the company requests individual exemptions from certain provisions of the Zoning Code and a comprehensive exemption for the portions of the Security Fence Project that would be located outside of the portions of the existing substation property reviewed by the siting board in “NSTAR/Stoughton.”

The company asserts that legal uncertainty and the potential for adverse interpretations, delay, burden, and undue expense associated with the permitting process and any appeals therefrom are factors that underlie its request for zoning relief from the DPU rather than pursuing zoning relief from the City of Boston, the DPU said.

As proposed, the DPU said, the Voltage Regulator Project includes the installation of a voltage regulator, a circuit breaker, and a 100-foot-tall shielding mast on a portion of a company owned parcel of land abutting the rear of the existing substation – referred to as the new parcel. The voltage regulator would be about 27 feet long by 27 feet high by 26 feet wide, and would be placed on a concrete foundation with an oil spill containment system and surrounded by crushed stone. The DPU added that the Voltage Regulator Project also includes the conversion of an existing 345-kV bus to a ring-bus design and the installation of new breaker control equipment, wiring, as well as three new circuit breakers within the existing substation footprint.

Concurrent with construction of the Voltage Regulator Project, Eversource would install a new perimeter fence around the existing K Street substation and the developed portion of the new parcel. The DPU also said that the Security Fence Project would consist of the replacement of the currently approximately 10-to-2-foot-tall perimeter fence and gates at the substation with about 2,045 linear feet of fencing at 15 feet in height; 1,775 linear feet of fencing at 20 feet in height; and 895 linear feet of fencing at 26 feet in height. The project would also include enhancements to the existing security camera system and lighting.

The DPU also said that the scope of the zoning exemption order encompasses all parcels at the substation site on which the projects are located. Eversource estimated that the Voltage Regulator Project would cost about $12m, while the Security Fence Project would cost about $21.4m.

The DPU noted that a petitioner seeking exemption from a zoning bylaw under Chapter 665 of the Acts of 1956 must meet three criteria:

  • The petitioner must qualify as a public service corporation
  • The petitioner must demonstrate that the proposed use of the land or structure is reasonably necessary for the convenience or welfare of the public
  • The petitioner must establish that it requires exemption from the zoning ordinance or bylaw

Discussing “public convenience and welfare,” for instance, the DPU said that the K Street substation is part of the New England bulk power system and performs a key role in electricity flow and power delivery in the Greater Boston area. Specifically, the DPU said, the substation contains two stepdown autotransformers that convert bulk power at a voltage of 345 kV to 115 kV to supply the downtown Boston area. Eversource stated that the Greater Boston Area Updated Transmission Needs Assessment (2015 Needs Assessment) issued by ISO New England (ISO-NE) identified certain N-1 and N-1-1 contingencies that would result in high voltages at the K Street substation and numerous other substations in the downtown Boston area, as well as the neighboring West Medway, West Walpole, and Holbrook areas under present-day light-load conditions.

The DPU added that according to Eversource, because of the K Street substation’s central location between the downtown Boston and West Medway, West Walpole, and Holbrook areas, as well as the substation’s strong electrical connection to neighboring substations, the Voltage Regulator Project would resolve the high voltage violations modeled in those areas.

The DPU said that Eversource has shown that there is a need for enhancements to the 345-kV transmission system at the K Street substation in order to address the potential for post-contingency high voltage violations in the downtown Boston and West Medway, West Walpole, and Holbrook areas under present-day light-load conditions. The Voltage Regulator Project would resolve those issues, the DPU said, adding that it finds that “there is a need for the Voltage Regulator Project and that its construction and operation would result in public benefits.”

Of the Security Fence Project, the DPU noted that according to Eversource, it is required to take measures to further protect the physical security of certain of its transmission system assets, based on new reliability and physical security standards adopted by FERC and NERC. The DPU said that it concurs with the company’s determination that the proposed fence alternative provides the best balance of cost, reliability, and environmental impact, while meeting the company’s federal regulatory obligations. The DPU said that it “concludes that the Security Fence Project is needed and that its construction and operation would result in public benefits.”

The DPU also said that the record shows that the land use impacts of the projects would be similar to impacts of existing uses at the substation. Among other things, the DPU noted that given the size of the existing substation components and the current views from the surrounding areas, the new voltage regulator would result in a minimal increase in visual impacts, and that the new Security Fence Project would screen much of the existing substation and the new voltage regulator from public view.

Based on input from the city and area residents, Eversource has made several design revisions that are intended to address identified aesthetic and access concerns. Noting that the company has not yet selected the final fence panel design, the DPU also said that it directs Eversource to provide a final rendering of the perimeter fence and a final landscaping plan for the entire substation site.

The DPU also said that given the proximity to residences, it approves a construction schedule of Monday through Friday from 7 a.m., to 6 p.m., as allowed by the city. The company is also directed to – in consultation with the city – develop a community outreach plan for construction and operation of the projects, the DPU said.

The record shows that the projects’ construction would require Eversource to obtain certain variances, the DPU said, adding that it accepts the company’s argument that the legal uncertainty associated with obtaining a variance and a conditional use permit is significant. Requiring Eversource to obtain variances and/or a conditional use permit could, at a minimum, result in significant delay to the projects, the DPU said, adding that it grants exemptions from certain provisions of the Zoning Code for areas impacted by project work, including Article 9 for authorization to change an existing non-conforming use at the existing substation.

Among other things, the DPU said that construction of the projects is to begin within three years of the order’s date.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3061 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.