Legislators lobby Malloy administration for Montville renewable energy project

Montville – The line between politics and commerce blurred here Monday as the mayor and state legislators backed NRG Energy’s bid to be chosen by the state for a valuable prize: a long-term contract to provide renewable energy.

A coalition of political, labor and business leaders are touting NRG’s plan to the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as an economic spark for a corner of eastern Connecticut where the recession hit harder and lasted longer.

“This is about jobs,” said Mayor Ron McDaniel, who stood with NRG employees and area legislators outside the Montville Power Station, an aging behemoth on the banks of the Thames River.

NRG’s proposal to convert the station into a “renewable energy park” was one of at least eight competitive bids for renewable energy projects filed by the close of business Monday.

An unsuccessful plan by NRG to convert one boiler at Montville Station to a wood-burning “biomass” project was recently revised to include solar power and gas-fired fuel cells. Biomass would generate 42 megawatts, with 2.3 MW from solar and 5.6 MW from fuel cells.

Other bidders pitched everything from wind farms in Maine to electricity produced by fuel cells, solar power and wood-burning in Connecticut.

The proposals will be analyzed and ranked by the staff of the Department of Energy and Environmental Project. Winners will be chosen by the agency’s commissioner, Daniel C. Esty, based on the best interests of electricity ratepayers, a spokesman said.

Economic impact is not a criteria, despite the lobbying on behalf of NRG.

McDaniel said he thinks the NRG project can compete on the state’s criteria.

According to state officials, the price of the electricity produced by the projects is the most important criteria (80 percent), followed by its contribution to improve reliability of the power grid (15 percent) and the feasibility of the proposals (5 percent).

Esty already has been lobbied on the project by five area legislators: Sens. Cathy Osten of Sprague and Andrea Stillman of Waterford, and Reps. Betsy Ritter of Waterford, Timothy R. Bowles of Preston and Kevin Ryan of Montville.

“We strongly encourage the Department to award a long-term contract for the Montville Biomass Project and look forward to breaking ground on this project soon,” the five Democrats told Esty in a letter.

No other project has been the subject of similar lobbying, a department spokesman said. Esty was unavaible for an interview Monday, and other department officials declined to comment on the bidding.

Dennis Schain, a spokesman, said the department had begun opening the bids and posting them on line, though they were redacted to remove pricing and other financial information.

Seven were posted by Monday night. The NRG proposal was not among them.

DEEP advertised for proposals July 8 with a response deadline of Aug. 5, setting off a scramble by bidders to win contracts to provide electricity under the state’s recently revised Renewable Portfolio Standard.

NRG has tried unsuccessfully since 2008 to obtain a long-term contract that would allow the conversion of a portion of the Montville Power Station, a former coal plant that now burns oil and natural gas, to a wood-burning biomass project.

As a biomass plant, it would generate electricity full-time. The plant now only supplies power in times of peak demand, leaving it vulnerable to an eventual closure. The station employs 38 workers.

At the urging of area legislators, NRG has broadened its proposal beyond biomass to include solar arrays on the site and fuel cells. While some biomass plants burn construction debris, NRG would burn only salvaged timber, brush and other clean wood.

“Within an 80 mile radius there is about 3.2 million tons of available supply” annually, said John Baylor, the project manager and senior director of development for NRG.

The biomass plant would need 400,000 tons annually.

“The key here is sustainable harvesting,” he said.

Esty can pick multiple projects that together produce 175 megawatts of power.

Documents were posted online about seven projects. (To view the documents, go to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection energy filings page and click on “proposals.’)

  • Highland Wind proposes to build 21 wind turbines along the eastern ridge of Highland Plantation, Maine.
  • Patriot Renewables proposes to generate 50.6 megawatts from 20 wind turbines to be built on the site of a former U.S. Air Force radar station in Moscow, Maine.
  • Patriot Renewables also proposes to generate 22.8 megawatts from eight wind turbines in Canton, Maine.
  • EDP Renewables would generate 50 megawatts from the Spruce Ridge Wind Farm in Groton, N.H.
  • EDP Renewables also proposes the Number Nine Wind Farm in Bridgewater, Maine. The capacity was unclear in the single, redacted document posted Monday night.
  • The Killingly Fuel Cell Park at 207 Tracy Road in Killingly would generate 28 megwatts in partnership with Fuel Cell Energy of Danbury, which also is a partner with NRG.
  • Urban Green Technologies of Chicago proposes to produce 20 megawatts of solar in various locations around Connecticut.

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