CLOCK IS TICKING: RMLD Struggling To Find Land For Power Substation In North Wilmington; Deal Falls Through At Last Minute

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Town Manager Jeff Hull recently announced that the Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) is struggling to find suitable land to build a much-needed substation in North Wilmington.

“RMLD has been pursuing property to locate a new power substation that would replace the existing substation on Wildwood Street,” said Hull. “The property that was the focus of discussions was property purchased for the protection of the Browns Crossing well fields. This property is considered so-called Article 97 land as it is intended for the protection of a public water supply. As such, removal of property from that designation requires a number of steps including replacing the property with an amount of property in excess of the amount removed from Article 97 designation.”

Hull explained that RMLD thought it had found a solution, but it now appears otherwise, and their appearance at an upcoming Selectmen’s meeting to explain the deal has been cancelled.

“Over the past several months, RMLD has been working with a landowner with property along the Route 125 corridor to purchase land which they planned to convey to the Town in exchange for three acres of Town land which they are seeking along the New England Power utility corridor,” said Hull. “Chairman Eaton and I have been involved in several discussions in recent weeks between RMLD and representatives of the property owner about the prospect of the transaction. On January 6, 2021, I was informed by Ms. O’Brien that discussions with representatives of the property owner reached an impasse.”

The Need For A New Power Substation

A new power substation in North Wilmington would allow Wilmington’s existing power substation on Wilwood Station to be downgraded to just a switching station.

“The Wildwood substation is at the end of its useful life. We’ve got to the point where we’ve done as much maintenance as we can. It’s just DONE,” O’Brien told Selectmen back in 2019. “That substation is in an environmentally sensitive area with wetlands. It doesn’t provide us enough space in order to [build another].”

O’Brien listed several benefits to building a new substation, including (1) improving electrical reliability; (2) adding capacity for electrical load growth; (3) helping economic development in North Wilmington; (4) reducing power costs by lowering system losses and utilizing the micogrid during peak times; and (5) setting the town up for more providing utilities to any future town projects (e.g., fire substation) in the general vicinity.

“A new substation eliminates the critical situation of a failing substation with the potential of rolling blackouts,” stressed O’Brien. “The current substation is 40-50 years old… A new substation will significantly improve reliability and provide load relief to other stations…. A third party report agrees with our assessment.”

“I think between Analog Devices and the development in North Wilmington, it doesn’t sound like we can continue to rely upon a very outdate Wildwood station,” Hull said during the 2019 discussion.

“This has to be done sooner than later. Time is of essence,” agreed O’Brien.“We’re talking about three years before the substation would go online. Best case scenario, we’re probably purchasing this land in 2020 and would go online in 2022. It will take 12-18 months just to build the equipment we order. The clock is ticking.”

It’s been 16 months since O’Brien was last in front of the Board of Selectmen. RMLD continues to search for land to swap with the town to satisfy the state’s Article 97 requirements. And the clock keeps ticking.

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