The state’s first microgrid projects have been announced. Nine projects in eight communities have been approved as part of a microgrid pilot project – the first in the nation – conceived after Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm in 2011 left large swaths of the state without power for more than a week.

State officials were particularly concerned that services such as food providers, gas stations and pharmacies could not operate and part of the goal had been projects to help communities keep essential services running during future power outages. Another part of the goal was systems that use cleaner energy sources.

But in the end, some of the projects approved rely at least partially on less-than-clean diesel generators. Other use natural gas generators. Only two use fuel cells. Three use small solar arrays – the cleanest of the options – but in conjunction with other fuel sources.

Only one project – in the Parkville area of Hartford – is designed to power essential services as originally conceived. Others at the universities of Connecticut and Hartford and at Wesleyan University handle campus buildings – though they include emergency shelters.

Bridgeport, Fairfield, Windham and Woodbridge were approved for systems that handle public buildings and other facilities such as cell towers. The sub base at Groton was also awarded a project.

A microgrid is essentially a mini-power grid. When the power from the main grid goes out, the microgrid systems automatically turn on and can operate independently.

The pilot project provided a total of about $18 million, $3 million more than originally approved by the legislature. The additional funding came from other sources. Those receiving grants may use them for anything except the actual generation equipment – which is by far the most expensive part of any such project.

In its most recent session, the legislature approved another $30 million for additional microgrid projects – $15 million per year for the next two fiscal years

Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.

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