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WMECO to host public hearings on project to upgrade lines and substations

Date: 5/4/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

Electricity is paramount in this day and age as the majority of the developed world relies on power to fuel society.

The increasing demand for electricity has prompted the Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) a subsidiary of Northeast Utilities -- to upgrade existing transmission lines predominately along the existing right-of-way, according to Frank Poirot, spokesperson for Northeast Utilities.

Residents and abutters will have the chance to weigh in on the proposed upgrades at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities' (DPU) three public hearings in Agawam, Chicopee and Wilbraham this month.

Poirot noted that upgrades will most likely occur in the existing right-of-way; however, land use negotiations with abutters are ongoing. He said WMECO is "working toward a fair settlement" with landowners.

Poirot explained the upgrades are part of the Greater Springfield Reliability Project -- a larger plan for transmission upgrades to lines and substations throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island -- that will ensure power flow and prevent massive blackouts.

He added that the 23-mile project will follow WMECO's "preferred route," encompassing Agawam, Chicopee, Ludlow, Springfield and West Springfield.

An alternative route including Agawam, East Longmeadow, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Wilbraham is also under consideration.

Jack Stone, superintendent of the Agawam Department of Public Works (DPW), and Jack Dowd, director of the West Springfield DPW, said they have been "apprised" of upgrades to the approximately two miles of transmission lines connecting their communities. They added that "no land taking" will be necessary.

"I've seen the prototypes [which will be used for the proposed upgrades]. The prototypes will be less unsightly [than the existing transmission lines and poles]," Dowd explained, adding that the proposed reconstruction calls for "single-arm or single-leg stanchions."

Agawam and West Springfield residents will have the opportunity to learn and comment about the Agawam to West Springfield Circuit Separation Project at the DPU and the Energy Facilities Siting Board public hearing at the Agawam Senior Center, 954 Main St., on May 6 at 7 p.m.

The project is a smaller portion of WMECO's overall upgrade, Poirot said.

The approval of the project will also exempt WMECO from Agawam and West Springfield's Zoning Ordinances.

Chicopee, Ludlow and Springfield residents will have their public hearing on May 7 at 7 p.m. in the Chicopee High School Auditorium, 820 Front St.

Those in the greater Wilbraham area will have their opportunity to learn about the upgrades at the third public hearing on May 13 at 7 p.m. at Wilbraham Middle School, 466 Stony Hill Rd.

Timothy Shevlin, executive director of the DPU, explained that residents wishing to intervene may do so by filing their written comments by May 20. Petitions to intervene may be sent to Mary Cottrell, Secretary of the DPU, via e-mail at or mailed to 1 South Station, 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02110.

Shevlin noted that no one has filed a petition to intervene in any of WMECO's petitions for transmission upgrade projects as of yet.

Poirot said upgrades will begin in 2010 barring any setbacks.