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Mehr: Move wires underground

By Patrick Mehr
Wicked Local Lexington
Jul 19, 2012

Lexington — To prevent the utilities' "indiscriminate assault on our trees" ("
Our enemies, the trees?” Lexington Minuteman, July 12, 2012) wires should be underground, like in Europe. In Belgium and Holland, almost 100 percent of electric distribution lines are underground; in Germany, 75 percent; in France, 33 percent (

But here, large utilities like NSTAR say that moving wires underground is prohibitively expensive.

Not true. In nearby Concord, which has its own municipal utility ("muni") since 1898, 40 percent of the electric network is already underground. The Concord muni spends $1 million to bury 1.5 miles of wires annually. Concord's electric rates being 40 percent below NSTAR's, undergrounding in Concord costs nothing extra compared with electricity costs in Lexington.

Lexington is electrically twice the size of Concord. If NSTAR emulated the Concord muni, it could move 3 miles of circuits underground annually, eliminating all of Lexington's 150 miles of overhead circuits in 50 years. But NSTAR refuses, so to get it done we must replace NSTAR with a Lexington muni, like Concord's. That in turn requires passage of the Muni-Choice bill to eliminate the monopoly NSTAR enjoys because of a century-old, obsolete state law (

State Rep. Jay Kaufman, lead sponsor of the Muni-Choice bill in the past 12 years, learned last week that House Speaker DeLeo and Ways and Means Chairman Dempsey killed his bill — for the sixth time. OCPF records ( show Messrs. DeLeo and Dempsey to be top recipients of political donations by NSTAR senior executives. NSTAR is better at lobbying Beacon Hill than at keeping our lights on, its rates low or our trees standing.

— Patrick Mehr, Woodcliffe Road, Lexington Electric Utility Committee, Precinct 3 Town Meeting member

Lilienfeld: Our enemies, the trees?

By Pedro Lilienfeld
Wicked Local Lexington
Jul 12, 2012

Lexington — I live in a Lexington neighborhood blessed with a canopy of trees, an unusual feature in a world of ever growing asphalt and concrete jungles. Recently, however, the ever-present and unbearable noise has become that of chainsaw and wood chipper. These tree “murders” are by homeowners and public utility companies that, apparently, have become obsessed with an almost messianic drive to eradicate the last vestiges of the natural world around us.

As to power utilities companies, what was recently perpetrated to the easement that crosses Turning Mill and Grove streets was a disaster. Where some trees whose branches got too close to the transmission lines could have been trimmed, the entire area was just bulldozed without even cleaning up the mess.

The result is that of an indiscriminate assault on our trees and the denudation of properties and power line easements, without an effort to replace the eradicated trees with other ones or with aesthetically equivalent plantings.

Here are some considerations that may not always be on the minds of those who have wrought this devastation and the concurrent elimination of one of our most precious resources.

What are the most salient benefits that we derive from trees and woods, especially in residential areas?

1. The cutting of each tree increases of our carbon footprint. A lost tree contributes to worsening climate change. Trees, as all plants, are a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis. Furthermore, that same process produces vitally needed oxygen. Of particular importance to us in New England are pine and hemlock trees because their carbon dioxide sequestration process continues during the winter months as opposed to deciduous species. It has been estimated that, over the typical lifetime of a tree, it removes several tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

2. Trees provide shade thus reducing air conditioning energy requirements during hot periods, which are likely to become more frequent as a result of global warming. This shading effect constitutes an indirect contribution of trees to the reduction of our carbon footprint. Trees also contribute to air temperature reduction by transpiration of water.

3. The presence of trees helps in reducing environmental noise. They act as effective acoustic barriers much like the noise barriers that we have seen going up alongside Route 128. Trees also dampen noise by reducing sound reverberation similarly to the acoustic treatment of concert halls.

4. Equally, trees are remarkably effective filters of air pollution. They reduce the concentration of particulate matter (fumes, smoke and dust), through the combined mechanisms of impaction and diffusion, and scavenge gaseous pollutants through Brownian diffusion and chemical reaction.

5. As to the danger of wind-induced breakage, dense groupings of trees tend to create a mutual shield reducing local wind speed. When trees are removed, those that are left are significantly more susceptible to wind damage by obliterating that mutual shielding effect.

6. Last but not least, trees are an aesthetic treasure to be appreciated. You don’t need to be a “tree hugger” to understand their beauty, especially in near-urban environments. For those who are enamored with treeless gardens and manicured lawns, there are many other neighborhoods where they could live. Even worse, in many cases, tree-denuded yards have been allowed to degenerate into unkempt weedy jungles. For those of us who prefer a wooded setting, I would hope that the ongoing war on trees will cease and that we, collectively, regain our respect and appreciation for these beautiful gifts of nature.

Deforestation and its attendant ills are a worldwide blight. Let us not contribute to them.

Lexington resident Pedro Lilienfeld is an atmospheric sciences consultant.