March 18, 2013
Power up

CT microgrid program seeks full financing

Photo | Pablo Robles
Photo | Pablo Robles
Alan Rubacha, senior project manager at Wesleyan University, at the Vine Street switchgear that will distribute electrical power to the Freeman Athletic Center. 
Photos | Pablo Robles
Alan Rubacha, senior project manager with physical plant-facilities at Wesleyan, shows how the university’s own generating systems will provide power to the university 24/7, even during widespread electrical outages.

Microgrid Finalists

Of the 36 initial applicants for the microgrid program, 27 advanced to the second round.

Applicant Location

Bridgeport City hall

Bridgeport Public works

CT Studios South Windsor

CTTransit Hartford

Glastonbury Town hall

Great Pond Development Windsor

Hamden High school

Hamden Town hall

Hartford Public works

Hartford Parkville school

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. Stratford

Southington Woodard & Curran

Naval Submarine Base Groton

Windham Sweeney Elementary

Trumbull Town hall

UConn Depot Campus Mansfield

University of Hartford West Hartford

Wesleyan University Middletown

Woodbridge Town hall

Ansonia Wastewater plant

Backus Hospital Norwich

New London Public works

Fairfield Police headquaters

Simsbury Town hall

Stamford Government center

Southbury Town hall

Windham Hospital Windham

Connecticut's pilot program to keep electricity flowing to key areas during widespread power outages is seeking significant expansion, setting up dozens — if not hundreds — of microgrids throughout the state in the coming years.

The microgrid pilot program was established in the storm response law following the widespread power outages in 2011 from Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm. The $15 million in initial funding will be awarded by early summer.

Based on the initial demand — 36 applications were filed for the pilot program — not only has Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed $30 million in project funding for the upcoming two-year state budget, but administrators are seeking full-time public/private financing through the Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority.

"We are working to develop a full program down the road," said Alex Kragie, special assistant to the commissioner of the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection. "We were very pleased with the initial result."

A microgrid is a collection of centrally located businesses and/or facilities powered by a local source of generation, such as a fuel cell, diesel generator, or combined heat and power unit. When the main power grid goes offline, the local generator islands the microgrid off and continues to supply electricity. The generator also may supply power when the main grid is operational.

"It is a fantastic program for the state, and we strongly would like to see it expanded and put out over the long term," said Paul Michaud, executive director of the Renewable Energy & Efficiency Business Association, based in Hartford. "We were very impressed with the quality and complexity of the projects that made it to the second round."

Of the 36 projects that submitted for the pilot program, 27 were approved to the final round, where applicants must finalize their proposals before receiving funding.

Wesleyan University in Middletown applied for one of the grants, wanting to expand the microgrid that already exists on campus to include the Freeman Athletic Center, which can be used as a shelter.

The expanded microgrid will help "to achieve greater reliability, to provide additional emergency power in an outage and to produce electricity for less cost and with fewer emissions," said Alan Rubacha, senior project manager with physical plant-facilities at Wesleyan.

The university would spend about $700,000 to hook Freeman up to the microgrid, along with the $3.7 million Wesleyan is spending to put a combined heat and power unit at the athletic center. The 2011 outages played a significant role in Wesleyan's decision to pursue this upgrade.

The state microgrid program only pays for engineering, design, and development. The applicants must buy generators on their own.

The microgrid initiative is designed as a full-service program to help applicants bring their proposals to step-by-step completion, Kragie said.

"We want to make sure people have the tools and resources they need," Kragie said.

After the public outcry following the 2011 outages, Kragie said DEEP would have considered the microgrid pilot a great success with 50 applicants but having 36 still is a good start.

Judging by the interests and possibilities for the future, the state could install 100 or more microgrids throughout the state in the coming years, Kragie said.

DEEP is pursuing financing from Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority, which leveraged public funds into private investment in the past for projects such as the commercial property assessed clean energy program to improve energy efficiency at businesses.

"The question we ask ourselves is how we can best make our (state funds) work," Kragie said.

The city of Hartford applied for two microgrid grants, one for a commercial district including a grocery store and gas station in the Parkville section of the city, and the other around the public works department.

"We are trying to respond to the governor's request to set up local distribution facilities," said Antonio Matta, Hartford city architect.

The University of Hartford applied for funds to connect its north residence halls and adjacent buildings to its current microgrid powered by diesel generators.

"We have lost power multiple times over the last five to 10 years," said Norm Young, UHart associate vice president of facilities planning and management. "We have a bunch of students living on campus, and it would be nice not to send them home in the event of an outage."

Young estimates the inclusion of the extra facilities would cost up to $1.2 million.

Unlike the Wesleyan system that runs 24/7, UHart's microgrid would turn on only in the event of an outage.

The diesel generators initially were installed at UHart in a partnership with Berlin-based electric utility Connecticut Light & Power, to reduce strain on the main grid when electricity demand peaks in summer.

"It provided us with a way to have backup power on the campus," UHart spokesman David Isgur said.

Hamden applied for two microgrids, around Hamden High School and the nearby grocery story, and around town hall and the police station. If established, all the businesses hooked up to the backup power would pay for the electricity generated by fuel cells, diesel generators, and combined heat and power facilities.

"It was a critical opportunity given the outages," said Chris Marchand, community development director.

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