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Dominion, FuelCell to build major fuel cell plant in Bridgeport

FuelCell Bridgeport

Rendering of a planned fuel cell power plant in Bridgeport.

After more than a decade of talks and “15 to 20” failures, Bridgeport officials unveiled a deal that will allow for the construction of one of the continent’s largest fuel cell plants on a 1.7-acre plot of city-owned land.

Dominion Resources Inc. will partner with FuelCell Energy Inc. of Danbury to build a 14.9-megawatt (MW) fuel cell power plant on land Dominion has leased from the city at 1366 Railroad Ave., the companies and city officials announced Dec. 14.

According to Dominion, the facility will be the largest fuel cell power plant in North America.

The plant will be owned and operated by the Richmond, Va., energy giant through subsidiary Dominion Bridgeport Fuel Cell L.L.C., with FuelCell Energy contracted to design, manufacture, install and manage five 2.8 MW fuel cell generators that together will be able to power the equivalent of 15,000 homes.

“It was absolutely crucial that the project be developed,” said David Kooris, director of Bridgeport’s office of planning and economic development. “We felt very strongly in the city’s desire to be on the front line in the green-energy revolution.”

At the Dec. 14 announcement, Mayor Bill Finch said he never thought the development — which city officials had discussed on and off since the late 1990s — would move forward. “This project died 15 to 20 times,” he said.

Dominion said it expects the project to cost between $70 million and $80 million to develop, with construction expected to begin immediately and the plant on schedule to be fully operational by the end of 2013.

FuelCell Energy, which to date has installed or is under contract to install a total of 300 MW of fuel cell-powered generators, said it expects to earn about $56 million from the construction and installation of the five generators and approximately $69 million over the course of a 15-year management and maintenance contract reached with Dominion for the facility.

Additionally, FuelCell Energy said it expects the project to result in the creation of about 160 jobs.

“In terms of the jobs aspect, what we’ve said is that it will either sustain or create 160 jobs over the life of the project, which is 15 years,” said Kurt Goddard, vice president of investor relations of FuelCell Energy. “That’s production jobs at our manufacturing facility in Torrington, it’s service jobs … and it’s local subcontracting jobs.”

Dominion will sell the electricity produced by the plant to Connecticut Light & Power under a 15-year fixed power purchase agreement.

The process of arranging connections between the plant and three area substations owned by United Illuminating Co. is already under way, the companies said.

Dominion will lease the property on Railroad avenue from the city for a 25-year period, with options for two 25-year extensions.

As part of the agreement, Dominion will own the plant itself, while the city will continue to own the property.

While the agreement is officially a lease, Kooris said it resembles a sale, with Dominion agreeing to an initial lease payment of $286,825 and to annual payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) of $250,000 over the first 17 years of the lease.

After the first year, subsequent lease payments will be “nominal,” Kooris said, estimating Dominion would pay about $5 a year.

The PILOT agreement was approved by the Bridgeport City Council Dec. 10. Because the property is in a designated redevelopment area, the City Council was not required to approve the lease agreement, Kooris said.

The Connecticut Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), which falls under the umbrella of Connecticut Innovations, has also approved an undisclosed incentive package for the developers.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the development of fuel cells and other “green” energy facilities is “essential” to the state achieving its goal of strengthening its electric grid while also fostering renewable energy sources.

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Patrick Gallagher

Bio: Fairfield County Bureau Chief Staff Reporter Westchester County Business Journal Covers: Economy, energy, government, infrastructure and public works projects, law, media, technology Phone: (914) 694-3600, ext. 3017

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