The Barnstable Town Council last week took a strong stand against the placement of potentially toxic oil-filled equipment at an NStar substation in Independence Park in Hyannis that would accommodate an offshore wind farm’s electricity into the regional grid.
The main concern is a potential oil spill into the town’s nearby municipal wells.
In addition to opposing the placement of the equipment, a council resolution asks the Environmental Protection Agency to undertake a review of NStar’s proposal. The resolution also states that if the equipment is approved at the location on Communication Way, impervious containers be provided. The council directed the town manager or his designee to convey the strong opposition in all matters related to the proposal.
“This is an example of an unintended consequence of Cape Wind,” resolution sponsor and council Vice President Ann Canedy said of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm. There are two substations in the area. One of the so-called shunt reactors would be placed near the Cape Cod Times Distribution Center on Communication Way, south of the Village Green affordable housing that is underway and adjacent to Trinity School and a Brazilian church, as well as three town wells, where the depth of water is 50 to 75 feet, she said.
To support the conversion of wind energy into electricity, NStar has proposed expanding its existing substation in the industrial park. The expansion includes construction of an expected four shunt reactors that will require more than 1,500 gallons of dielectric oil as a coolant, according to Canedy.
The other substation is just as vulnerable because of its proximity to well sites and as such is not a viable alternative site, Canedy said this week. “Because of that we are more likely to be granted sufficient containment (rather than a complete ban) if we are granted any relief at all.”
As the result of litigation initiated by the town and the Barnstable Water District to protect the Barnstable and Hyannis Water Board wells, Canedy said the town learned that the dielectric fluid to be used contains the highly toxic chemicals Edisol, sulfur hexafluoride and Farodol.
NStar and Cape Wind recently petitioned the Energy Facilities Siting Board to approve the installation of equipment at the site. As part of the litigation, “the two companies reluctantly provided Material Safety Data Sheets for the two types of dielectric fluid that they proposed to use at the site,” the resolution states.
Those sheets demonstrated that the fluids contain “very dangerous chemicals” that provide several warnings, according to the council resolution. The warnings state that the material should be prevented from entering storm sewers, ditches or drains that lead to waterways, that it should not reach groundwater, waterways or sewage systems, and should not be released into the environment.
The warnings state the drains should be dammed up, and the materials should be kept in a container tightly closed in a dry and well-ventilated place with an impermeable floor, and the product should be destroyed by incineration.
Canedy said that one gallon of spillage from the equipment could contaminate 5 million gallons of drinking water. If the toxic oils reached the groundwater, they would reach Barnstable Fire District and Hyannis Water Department well in as little as seven or eight days and would likely cause the wells to be closed, pending an expensive and time-consuming cleanup, the resolution stated.
A spill that closes more than one well would leave the Hyannis system with no emergency reserve, according to the resolution.
Tom Rooney of the Hyannis Water Department said if the wells were inoperable, it would impede firefighting ability. He added that a previous spill of less than 5 gallons of cleaning fluid in Independence Park from the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory closed a Fire District well for 18 years and cost $1 million to clean up.
Cape Wind and NStar have refused to conduct testing for the variables that could affect the water and to provide impervious containment basins under the oil-filled equipment.
Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin said the Energy Siting Board has the power to override all other agencies. There were two hearings before that board in September.
“This has been an extraordinarily fast track project for something so serious,” McLaughlin said.
Councilor Fred Chirigotis suggested that the water district, the Cape Cod Commission and Assembly of Delegates also write letters in opposition to the equipment.
Councilor James Tinsley, who has been the only vocal supporter of Cape Wind on the council, asked if anyone had called Cape Wind to come before the council. No one had. He said he could not support the resolution, saying that some of its claims were inaccurate.
“We shouldn’t be scaring people with incorrect information,” he said.
The resolution passed 10 to 1, with Tinsley the only dissenter.