New $50 million light plant substation and climate action planning articles will appear on Town Meeting agenda

Hingham Municipal Light Plant

February 12, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer

Among the 32 warrant articles to be considered at this year's Town Meeting is one asking citizens to authorize the town to transfer the management and control of a parcel of land situated between the landfill driveway and a nearby dead-end street on which the Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant would like to build a new substation at an estimated cost of between $50 and $55 million dollars, according to HMLP General Manager Paul Heanue.

Because the light plant is not authorized to borrow money, the town would do so on HMLP's behalf. The cost would be borne by ratepayers.

Hingham's Treasurer/Collector Jean Montgomery will be asked to report on what effect, if any, such a debt would have on the town's current $300 million borrowing capacity.

If Town Meeting approves the land transfer and the substation project, a site plan review would be conducted -- which would trigger abutter notices and a public review process.

Heanue explained the reasoning behind the substation proposal at last night's selectmen's meeting. "A couple of years ago, one of our two transmission lines was damaged, leaving only one line available [to serve the entire town]," he said.

Repairs were made, but during a time when there was a 40-below zero wind chill factor, the line went out of service again, with additional repairs required.

"If the other line had gone out, we could have had 10,000 houses with frozen pipes, which would be an untenable situation," Heanue said.

Consultants helped HMLP officials identify the proposed site for the new substation -- which is near the current one located at the foot of the driveway leading into the transfer station on the left-hand side, surrounded by arborvitaes -- on which to install an additional transmission line underground.

"If anything should happen to these three lines [based on potential Town Meeting approval for the third one], we would still have two as a back-up, which makes for a much more reliable system," Heanue said.

Heanue said the substation would be designed to look like a house to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.

The discussion was continued until one of the selectmen's March meetings -- at which time public comments will be accepted and the board will vote on the proposed   article. Check the town calendar at for the date and time.

Two other warrant articles relate to allocating funds to develop a climate action planning study and creating a 11-member climate action planning committee to oversee the planning process.

Such a plan would evaluate a wide range of carbon emission reduction strategies and propose measures to achieve a zero sum of these emissions produced and taken out of the atmosphere ("net zero") by 2040 or another target deemed feasible within the borders of Hingham -- a townwide effort targeting the municipal, residential, business, and municipal sectors.

Looking toward the two warrant articles related to the creation of a climate plan, Heanue said the additional transmission line would help ensure an adequate amount of electric power that would eventually be needed if voters approve the climate action plan articles. "So now we're talking about a reliability and capacity project," he said.

The requested appropriation for the climate action planning study would be a maximum of $50,000, with an additional contribution from HMLP.

The purpose of the additional substation would be to help prevent power outages, especially during severe storms. Selectmen Chair Mary Power said the project is "something we absolutely need to do as we see the snow falling and the winds blowing."

Back to the other two articles mentioned above, the climate action planning committee would be comprised of one member each from the energy action committee, Cleaner Greener Hingham, the school committee or designee, a HMLP representative, planning board, conservation commission, development & industrial committee and four residents -- two chosen by the selectmen and two by Town Moderator Michael Puzo.

"This is such an important issue for the town to address," said Selectman Joseph Fisher.

Hingham Net Zero member Laura Burns said "a lot of personal activity will need to change [to fulfill the "net zero" goal], and Net Zero will help the community figure out how to do that."

This group is comprised of residents dedicated to raising awareness of the need for aggressive climate action; supporting the town’s efforts to cut emissions; and working to reduce carbon emissions across Hingham as quickly as possible through advocacy and education.

The selectmen support both of the climate action planning articles.

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