Sunday, July 21, 2024

A Greater Cambridge Energy Project presentation by Eversource shows power cable routes from a planned substation as of March 2022.

The city of Cambridge is siding with Eversource in the dispute between the utility and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over transmission lines through the MIT campus in Eversource’s $1.5 billion project to increase electric capacity in the fast-growing Cambridge area. The city filed testimony by public works commissioner Kathy Watkins on Thursday saying Cambridge supports the utility’s routes for underground cables on city streets that run through the campus.

In her testimony, Watkins said segments of MIT’s proposed routes were considered during Eversource’s three-year route selection process that included meetings with the school and Cambridge, well before the school formally proposed alternative routes in late September, only about one month before hearings on the project before a state board were to begin. The campus segments “were eliminated from further consideration for significant and valid reasons,” Watkins said.

The utility’s preferred route would use Vassar and Ames streets through the campus, which MIT says would endanger scores of the university’s underground wires, pipes and other structures and could also affect its central utility plant that supplies electricity, chilled water and steam heat to buildings on campus. MIT wants to route the underground cables along Albany Street, Wadsworth Street and the southern section of the Grand Junction Railroad.

The institute’s alternative proposal is flawed like the segments that were previously considered, Watkins said. “The streets MIT now proposes were eliminated for appropriate reasons, including existing utility congestion, risk to existing underground infrastructure and other construction challenges,” she said in her testimony.

“The timely completion of the Eversource project is critical to the economic well-being of the city and its ability to achieve important clean energy goals in a timely manner,” Watkins said. Eversource has warned that its Greater Cambridge Energy Project could be delayed if the state Energy Facilities Siting Board gives formal status to the MIT proposal, which would require public hearings, formal notification of property owners and other legal procedures. This process has already occurred for the Eversource proposal.

Eversource officials have also said in testimony that the utility is operating near the limit of its capacity and needs to have a siting board decision on its plans by next June to complete the project by 2030.

The plans call for Eversource to build an 11-story underground substation in Kendall Square and connect it to existing substations in East Cambridge, Putnam Avenue and in Somerville and Brighton. It would require more than 8 miles of underground cable to link the substations.