Connecticut will invest $18 million in nine microgrids, or electric generators that can operate independent of the grid, as officials seek to mitigate the impacts of blackouts.
The microgrid pilot program, which was announced July 24 in Bridgeport, is aimed at promoting the development of natural gas-powered turbines, diesel generators, solar photovoltaic systems, fuel cells and other standalone generators that can run 24/7 and power critical facilities and town centers during prolonged grid interruptions.
Nine projects, including one in Bridgeport and one in Fairfield, were selected from among 36 proposals submitted in response to a request for microgrid concepts by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he has recommended that an additional $30 million be devoted to the program over the next two years and encouraged local officials to resubmit projects that are not being funded by the pilot program for future consideration.
In Bridgeport, $2.97 million will go toward three 600-kilowatt natural gas microturbines to power City Hall, the police station and senior center.
In neighboring Fairfield, the police station, emergency operations center, a cell tower, the fire department headquarters and a public shelter will be powered by two natural gas reciprocating engines with capacities of 50 kilowatts and 250 kilowatts and a 47-kilowatt solar installation with the support of $1.16 million in state funds.
Other projects will power the naval submarine base in Groton, the University of Hartford campus and St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Wesleyan University in Middletown, the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus, two schools in Windham and five public facilities in Woodbridge.
The pilot program and the initial funding were authorized by the state legislature in 2012. Disbursement of the $18 million requires State Bond Commission approval, which is expected this fall. DEEP will be the primary funding source, with the Department of Economic and Community Development funding the Groton generator because it will support a federal facility.
DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said the projects “are not simply backup generation.”
“They’re going to be, in most cases, 24/7 power sources,” Esty said in an interview prior to the program unveiling in Bridgeport. “What distinguishes them is that they’re separable from the grid when the grid goes down, so they’re ‘islandable,’ as we say.”
The biggest challenge will be ensuring the pilot program and any future microgrid installations are developed in a cost-effective manner, Esty said.
“I think many people are willing to pay a bit of a premium for distributed generation because it is insurance against pain and suffering when the grid is down,” he said. “But we want to make sure to do it in a very cost-effective way.”
Esty said the pilot program would help officials determine how best to promote future microgrid developments.
“We’re trying to figure out what is the best structure in terms of who owns the power generation facility, who owns the wires, who manages the process,” he said. “I think that’s what we’ll learn over the course of the next several years with this pilot program.”
Asked what role the state’s utilities would play in the microgrids’ development, Esty said the pilot program is a partnership that includes towns and universities and other facilities in addition to the state’s utilities.
“One of the questions going forward is, is this something the utilities should manage or is it something the communities should or is it something that a particular institution — a hospital, say — should manage? And we’re trying to play out all of those options and understand what the best way forward would be,” Esty said.
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