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Environmental Firm Wants Massachusetts Utilities to Take a Lesson From Texas Outages

Liz Lerner
Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth

In the wake of the Texas energy crisis, local environmentalists warn that higher temperatures, rising seas, and more intense storms are threatening the safety and reliability of Massachusetts’ power grid and other utilities.

The Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation has filed a petition with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities— which oversees private, investor-owned companies like Eversource and National Grid— to assure the readiness of these critical systems. The petition asks the state to require water, gas, and electric companies to demonstrate that they’re considering the effects of climate change and extreme weather on their infrastructure.

“It really is on the state to make sure that we’re appropriately regulating these companies and make sure that … we will have safe and reliable service into the future,” said Deana Moran, director of environmental planning at CLF.

Reliable electricity is essential, particularly for those who rely on refrigerated medication, Moran added, and the impacts of climate change could threaten that reliability.

“We’re experiencing heavier snow loads and precipitation coming in much quicker bursts,” she said. “So how is that going to affect distribution lines? What does that mean for trees falling and taking down distribution lines and poles?”

In response, a spokesperson for Eversource says the company is working closely with the state to build more durable infrastructure.

“We design [our infrastructure] to withstand all potential flooding events,” said Reid Lamberty of Eversource. “We take a look at not just the 100-year storms but the 500-year storms, and we understand the potential for that sea rise risk. And we will build beyond that so we are ensuring the safety of our substations, the safety of our equipment, and most importantly, the safety of our customers.”

Also, Lamberty said, Eversource has invested millions in tree trimming along distribution lines because “trees are the number one cause of outages in New England.”

“We have a very environmentally responsible vegetation management program,” Lamberty added. “This year alone, we’re spending more than $40 million [on] tree trimming.”

Power outages caused by winter storms in Texas caused 80 deaths and left millions without heat or electricity, Moran said.

While Massachusetts doesn’t face the same challenges as southern states — there is no fracking for natural gas here, and pipelines and wind turbines are weatherized along with power generators — extreme weather will present cooler-climate states with issues of their own.

“What we don’t want is for people in Massachusetts to feel the trauma and agony that people in Texas felt last month when they were in dire circumstances without power, and in some cases without fresh water,” Moran said. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.