A decision on National Grid’s proposed substation has been delayed as town officials seek additional information from the company and await an independent consultant’s review of the proposal.
The Bethlehem Zoning Board of Appeals canceled its meeting Wednesday, April 1, which is when the board was initially slated to vote on the area and use variances National Grid is seeking to construct a new $15 million substation at 109 Van Dyke Road. There is also uncertainty over the project being included on the board’s agenda for its next meeting, Wednesday, April 15. The utility company may evaluate an alternate, town-owned property to site the substation, too.
ZBA Chairman Daniel Coffey said he was “not optimistic” the substation proposal would be addressed at the board’s next meeting. He said National Grid would need to provide board members with more information before placed on its agenda.
“If everything comes in over the next week, we will try to get them back on,” said Coffey. The ZBA agenda is scheduled to be posted around Friday, April 10.
National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said the company has been putting together information the zoning board requested on March 4. “We are hoping we are going to have that information together in the next week or two,” Stella said Friday, April 3.
Coffey, rebuking media reports, said the town has not “offered” any town-owned property to National Gird to construct the substation. He said the feasibility of any alternative site must be reviewed before a property was offered.
“There is certainly no offer I am aware of on the table,” said Coffey.
Bethlehem Economic Development and Planning Director Robert Leslie echoed Coffey and said the town has suggested sites for National Grid to evaluate the feasibility to build a new substation.
“The Town has a DPW field yard on Route 32, so that was forwarded on to National Grid for cursory review,” said Leslie.
The field yard is located near the intersection of Route 32 and Meads Lane, in between Elm Avenue Park and Owen Corning’s plant. The feasibility of this site is unclear given its distance from National Grid’s proposed location and the feeder lines that would have to be run from it, according to Coffey.
National Grid is in the process of reviewing the alternate site, according to Stella. Various elements outside of technical feasibility have to be evaluated, such as any property line issues.
“When we look at a site it is an involved process,” he said. “The closer you can site a substation to the actual transmission line the easier it is to control.”
The town’s field yard has various construction material stored on the property. Where these materials would be moved has not been determined yet, according to Leslie. “This is so early that all of the questions need to be answered,” he said.
Leslie said the town is seeking to hire New Jersey-based RCM Technologies to review National Grid’s proposal. The firm specializes in designing and managing construction of substations, along with electrical engineering.
“We have started that process, but that consultant has not been hired,” Leslie said Thursday afternoon, April 2.
Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the town is able to hire consultants as needed at the expense of the applicant. As of April 2, town officials were still waiting for National Grid to sign the agreement to hire RCM Technologies and pay the upfront fee to the consultant.
“We want our own consultants to do an independent review of the data that National Gird submitted,” said Coffey.
Stella said the company is still reviewing the agreement with the town. The consultant would have to meet the criteria of the town and National Grid, according to Stella.
“We really have to look at that since we will be paying the fee,” he said.
The consultant would review the trove of technical information regarding whether National Grid has shown a need for the substation, along with the company’s claims for the need to locate the facility at the Van Dyke Road property.
National Grid representatives have said the proposed substation is needed to relieve load issues causing brownouts in the surrounding area, which has seen demand for electricity steadily increase. Building the new substation would also relieve stress on two older substations, leading to both eventually being taken offline and the equipment removed.
“It was the site that we really thought was the best,” said Stella. “That said, we are certainly open to looking at some other things based on the feedback we have gotten form the residents, school board and zoning board.”
RCM would also evaluate any health effects related to the substation, which is concern parents have raised about the site’s close proximity to Eagle Elementary School and Bethlehem Central High School.
William Bailey, a scientist and consult for National Grid, previously explained at a school board meeting how the substation would not generate harmful electromagnetic fields. Bailey pointed to the World Health Organization evaluation that EMFs have not been identified to have any health risk over several decades of extensive research.
Stella said residents typically “have a lot of concerns” when an electric facility site is being proposed, and the company is “certainly sensitive” to those concerns. The company does review any potential sites proximity to homes and what properties surround it, along with safety concerns.
“We want to make every effort we can to get as much information to the town and residents,” said Stella.