Connecticut, The Microgrid State

November 19, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

microgridHurricanes Sandy and Irene and a number of lower profile emergencies have had a great impact on Connecticut. Instead of just nervously watching The Weather Channel, the state is taking action.

The latest example of efforts to ensure that key functions kept operating in emergency – and to give a boost to the traditional grid in the process — came this week. The town of Woodbridge finalized a deal with The United Illuminating Company to create a microgrid that will provide 2.2 MW of power to the electrical grid and act as a backup for seven municipal buildings.

The microgrid, which will be operational next year, will be powered by a FuelCell Energy power plant and be headquartered at Amity Regional High School, one of the seven buildings. The others are the senior center – which will be the emergency center – the public works facility, the police station, the fire house, the library and the town hall.

The state of Connecticut has a number of microgrid projects under way. “Both hurricanes Sandy and Irene very clearly demonstrated the need for grid resiliency in the State of CT,” wrote Kurt Goddard, FuelCell Energy’s head of investor relations, in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today. “The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been supporting the adoption of microgrids in towns and cities throughout the State since these two back-to-back storms devastated the state.”

Goddard pointed to structural changes that encourage the projects. “The State of Connecticut deregulated utilities so the utilities own transmission and distribution but not generation,” he wrote. “The state wanted to expand adoption of renewable power generation, consistent with its RPS [Renewable Connections Program goals, and passed legislation allowing the utilities to purchase/own a certain portion of renewable power generation. United Illuminating took advantage of this, purchasing a number of fuel cell power plants to support existing electrical sub stations, such as the New Haven and Bridgeport Seaside projects.”

Microgrids Come to Connecticut

A story at The Fairfield Daily Voice says that in 2012 Connecticut became the first state to institute a project. It has awarded $23.1 million to date. Last month, the town of Fairfield introduced a microgrid which, like the project in Woodbridge, will both supplement the grid during normal times and provide emergency backup. It was funded by a $1.2 million grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

This area will stay hot for some time. Cogeneration & On-Site Power Production reported last month that Connecticut will begin accepting funding proposals for microgrid projects on December 10. This round – the third — eventually will grant $30 million. Private and municipal entities can apply for the grants. The story says that $20 million will be set aside for municipalities, which can be awarded as much as $3 million each. An additional $2 million can be awarded to “priority towns” that are eligible for Department of Agriculture funding, the story said.

The financing of microgrids will be a growing issue as the segment seeks traction. Microgrid Knowledge offers insight into the realities of financing such projects. These entities, the story says, represent a unique challenge to green banks, which so far have focused on solar energy. Microgrids, the story says, must be more customized more closely to the specific project than solar projects and tend to have different levels of credit worthiness based on the such issues as the nature of the buildings that will be served. The goal, according to an official of the Connecticut Green Bank cited in the story, is to move microgrid projects from grants to loans.

Goddard feels that microgrids are a useful tool in Connecticut and beyond. “Microgrid adoption is growing,” he wrote. “Universities, hospitals and manufacturers are common applications as a continual supply of power is critical for operations/safety. Municipal applications are growing as consistently available power is expected by American voters. Politicians may not be re-elected if power goes out frequently and for long periods of time as a result of storms.”

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