Representatives for National Grid will walk back into Bethlehem Town Hall today (Wednesday, Feb. 7) to propose a new substation on Van Dyke Road, a plan the company initially pitched nearly four years ago.
The utility company is acting on the apparent need to upgrade the power grid within town. It points to two substations in particular that are no longer meeting the needs of local residents and business owners. The Delmar substation, which stands close to the Albany County rail trail and Adams Street, needs to be retired, so it says. A quick glance at the site reveals a weathered utility station.
We once asked how old it was, but there was no answer available. The utility company has since asked a consultant firm to assess the power needs of the town. It also pointed to the Delmar and Juniper substations as in need of an upgrade, “due to the source voltage and capacity limits of the existing substations.”
Is it out of the realm of reality to say each were built in the 1970s? So, roughly forty years ago — Imagining the town and how it once was forty years ago, there has been considerable growth throughout town. In particular, all around the substation tucked away behind the rail trail that now supports pedestrians and bicyclists instead of freight trains. Honestly, the substation looks like it was built during the Kennedy administration, or prior, but we decided to be conservative. The argument to build a new substation seems plausible.
That argument, however, shot a charge through neighboring residents, farmers and parents of Eagle Elementary and Bethlehem Central High schools. The thought of building a substation at relative close proximity to farms and schools left many concerned. Those questions filled seats in Town Hall.
Concerns for the well-being of children and animals should never go unheard, but the protests against the project do not appear to make a connection to anything plausible. For example, one questioned how the substation would impact dairy cows near-by. The person making the argument said cows are sensitive to electricity, in particular, “stray voltage.” That same phrase was used in a 1992 study which introduced milking cows to a direct current. It did not mention substations specifically. However, it did back that cows, as are humans, are sensitive to a direct source of electricty. Other arguments alluded to the concern over possible on-site accidents harming school children. A quick search on the internet for substation accident revealed one more than 20 years ago, an explosion and subsequent fire that injured utility men on site in New York City. No one outside the site was injured.
There is also the matter of the already existing high-tension wires running over the proposed site. It seems any concern over electricity, stray current or otherwise, would have been answered years ago. As for substation disasters, we’re willing to bet one will occur at an old, failing one before a newly built one.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.