Eversource Energy Tesei: ‘Progress’ in talks for substation
GREENWICH — Could a deal be on the horizon on the proposed electrical substation on Railroad Avenue? Nothing has been finalized, but First Selectmen Peter Tesei offered hope that Greenwich could reach an agreement with Eversource Energy.
At Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Tesei gave an update on the controversial project. Many residents are worried about its aesthetic and environmental impact and have questioned whether a second substation is even needed in town.
“I think we’re making progress,” Tesei said of the ongoing discussions with Eversource. “There is a court-directed process, and we expect that we may come up with some kind of agreement.”
He did not give any details about what the agreement might entail. The Board of Selectmen, which initiated the appeal of the proposal, would have to approve any agreement.
“Stay tuned,” Tesei said at Thursday’s meeting. “I like what I’m seeing and what we’re receiving in terms of feedback to our requests.”
Eversource spokesman Frank Poirot would not say Thursday whether a deal was imminent, but he agreed with Tesei’s positive assessment.
“We have been working collaboratively with town officials for months and have made good progress toward addressing the town’s concerns,” Poirot said. “We are optimistic about delivering a solution that will reliably serve the town’s energy needs.”
Under the current plan, which has been approved by the Connecticut Siting Council, an open-air substation would be built at 290 Railroad Ave., the former site of Pet Pantry. It would then be connected via 2.3 miles of transmission lines going through Bruce Park to the existing substation in Cos Cob.
Eversource says the project is needed because it can no longer meet the high demand for electricity in Greenwich with just the one existing substation.
Electricity use per capita in Greenwich is among the highest of all the municipalities served by Eversource, Poirot said in June. Strengthening the infrastructure and adding the second substation would reduce the strain on the system, he said, particularly during prolonged stretches of heavy use, such as during a heat wave.
Opponents have rejected that view, saying that the demand for electricity has gone down and that Eversource has better ways to handle demand than by building a second substation.
After the Connecticut Siting Council ruled last year that the substation could go forward, the town filed an appeal in December. In June, the town’s legal department said settlement talks between the town and Eversource were taking place, but it acknowledged the difficulty of winning an appeal.
At that time, Town Attorney Wayne Fox said Greenwich had reached some agreements with the utility and that he considered it a “good faith effort” on both sides to find a solution.
Construction on the substation, which had been expected to begin in May, has not begun and is not likely to start until after the town’s appeal has been resolved. But Poirot said he expected site preparation work on Railroad Avenue to begin soon.
Work has been ongoing since May, though, inside the Cos Cob substation. New equipment has been brought in to facilitate the connection that would eventually be made to the new substation.
“After consultation with the town, we expect to submit a construction work plan to the Connecticut Siting Council for their review and approval by the end of September,” Poirot said. “Substation construction would start late this year or early 2019 with construction completion late in 2019.”
Both sides are expected to be in court in New Britain in September on the appeal, but Tesei did not indicate whether he believed the matter would be resolved before then. He said it was possible it could happen or the court date “could become the forum in which we kind of finalize.”
“It’s always preferable to avert litigation and come to a mutually agreed upon settlement,” Tesei said.
The meetings with Eversource have also included town Deputy Commissioner of Public Works James Michel and town Director of Planning and Zoning Katie DeLuca. Michel is out of the office for the week and could not be reached for comment.
DeLuca said she has been involved but had no comment on any potential agreements.
Tesei said Thursday there has been “constructive dialogue over the last several weeks.”