New Electrical Substation, Transmission On Line for Spring 2016 Launch

After listening to Belmont Light General Manager James Palmer at public meeting Tuesday, Sept. 23, the best way to described the work to bring on line a new electrical substation and laying out a transmission route through town is “hunky-dory.”

Since being approved by Special Town Meeting in Feb. 2012, the town-owned electric utility proposal to meet the town’s increasing power requirements has been steaming along right on schedule, Palmer told a meeting of the joint meeting of the Belmont Light Board (made up of the Board of Selectmen) and its Advisory Board held at the Beech Street Center.

“Progress has been made, and we are hard at work to have this project up and running by the Spring of 2016,” said Palmer.

While the multimillion dollar project will effect everyone who turns on a switch in their home or business in Belmont, only a handful of rate paying residents showed up for the presentation which reviewed the steps taken so far by the utility and some of the challenges it could face in the future.

Since 2012, Belmont Light has moved on finding a location for the substation and obtaining the property, clearing regulatory hurdles and laying out the best route for the new electrical lines after securing easements and state approval.

“As you can see, we’ve made great progress in a short amount of time,” said Palmer.

The new Belmont Light substation. (credit: Belmont Light)

The new Belmont Light substation. (credit: Belmont Light)

Palmer said the project’s most noticeable accomplishment can be seen at the substation’s new home off Brighton Street on Flanders Road. The building that was once the home of Crate Escape, the dog day care business, has been demolished as the location is being readied for construction.

The town issued a Request for Proposal to build the $5 million, 10,000 sq.-ft. structure with bids due by Oct. 31 with a contract awarded soon afterwards.

“These are huge milestones,” said Palmer.

The new substation – which will house a new 115-kV single loop transmission line – is being built in partnership with the regional utility NSTAR. Rate payers will be on the line for $26.1 million in long-term bonding.

While out of sight, the transmission line bringing power from the substation to homes and businesses is also proceeding, although at a much slower rate. While Belmont Light will lay the line on the south side of the MBTA/Fitchburg commuter rail line, the utility will need to coordinate with the MBTA, which currently has a construction project at the site.

“This could impact our schedule,” said Palmer, saying it’s doubtful both projects could simultaneous work “side-by-side” at the same time.

As part of meeting the project’s regulatory requirements, Belmont Light made an initial presentation to ISO-New England, the independent, non-profit regional transmission organization that operates New England’s power grid and oversees the wholesale electricity market.

“If the project is deemed a benefit to the surrounding communities, which it is, then the cost of the transmission lines will be shared regionally,” said Palmer.

When asked by Slate Street’s Roger Wrubel if a positive ISO response to Belmont Light’s presentations would save either Belmont Light or NSTAR money, Palmer said both entities would benefit in the cost cut.

Moving forward this fall, Palmer said the town has issued a RFP for the transmission lines, and new major electrical equipment will be purchased along with the substation’s contractor named.

And while changing market conditions could increase the cost of construction, Palmer said he believes the contingency set aside in the budget will sufficiently meet any future “surprises,” said Palmer.

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