Microgrid project draws three-dozen applications

Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation microgrid pilot project received some three-dozen applications by Wednesday’s deadline, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Most were from cities and towns, including some with multiple submissions; but there were also some from universities, hospitals, companies, a state transit facility, Tweed airport, the Navy sub base and even an as-yet-to-be-built movie studio.

While one of the stated goals of the microgrid project is cleaner energy sources, nearly a third involve diesel generators — not ideal from an environmental standpoint — though nearly all are existing backup generators. In most cases the diesel is one component of an array of generators.

Each of the microgrids is essentially a mini electric grid with its own power sources that, though tied to the main grid, can run when that grid goes down.

About half the proposals involve natural gas-fueled generation, in some cases what’s known as combined heat and power — generation that uses the waste energy for heat. A couple of projects would use anaerobic digesters, which make energy from the gas generated by decomposing waste.

Several opt for fuel cells — widely promoted and known in Connecticut because of the large fuel cell industry here. Among them are two particularly large ones in Windsor — a 5 megawatt fuel cell to run the planned CT Studios movie studio and one that would be combined with solar at the planned Great Pond Village, a sustainable community that would include more than 1,500 units of housing, commercial and office space.

Five call for solar with battery backup systems so the power can run at night and other non-sunny times. But in the past, even solar installation companies and other experts have advised against such systems here given the weather trends and short winter days. The size and expense of backup systems, they say, would not make them cost effective, and extended poor weather might leave the solar cells unable to re-charge.

The impetus for the microgrid project was Tropical Storm Irene followed by the October 2011 snowstorm when many towns found themselves without power to supply even basic services like food and gasoline to power-less residents or critical facilities like wastewater treatment plants and fire stations.

That said, a number of the proposals do not fit that particular bill. Some  are for facilities that are not likely to be considered emergency — such as Tweed Airport or an ice arena in Hamden.

Overall, Alex Kragie, who has been DEEP’s point-person on the microgrid project, said the department was pleased with the submissions. “The results were very encouraging,” he said. “Especially considering that this is the first time a statewide microgrids program like this has been done anywhere in the country.”

From this group of submissions a number will be chosen to move on to the next and final round, which will require detailed proposals and financial calculations. Under the terms of the pilot program, projects can receive funding from a pool of $15 million in bond funding (yet to be allocated) to use for anything except purchase of the actual generation.

Applicants are likely to get money through other state and federal incentive programs or power-purchase agreements in which an outside company owns the generation and the user pays for the power.

Selection for round two is expected in another month or so.