Officials fired up over Woodbridge fuel cell
WOODBRIDGE >> State and local officials Monday celebrated a milestone in an effort to provide key town buildings with power in the event of outages from a crippling storm.
The new 2.2-megawatt fuel cell at the rear of Amity Regional High School has been operating since December. But it was somehow appropriate that the ribbon-cutting for the renewable energy generating unit was held on a day when a nor’easter began bearing down on Connecticut.
“Microgrids, and the fuel cells that are helping support them, are an essential part of our strategy to make certain that we harden our infrastructure in order to better withstand the type of catastrophic storms we have experienced in recent years,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said before the ribbon-cutting. “And at the same time, they are also providing an efficient-energy source that in the long run will help save taxpayer money.”
The unit converts clean natural gas into electricity and heat through a highly efficient electrochemical process that is free of combustion and creates virtually no unhealthful emissions that are released into the air, said Kurt Goddard, vice president of investor relations with the company.
Right now, the fuel cell is producing electricity daily that is sold into the regional electric market, said Ed Crowder, a spokesman for the United Illuminating Co., the Orange utility that owns the fuel cell. But the microgrid won’t be fully operational until this summer, Crowder said, when the school’s fuel cell is linked up with the other buildings via underground cable.
Efforts to get a microgrid for Woodbridge date back nearly five years.
Connecticut launched its microgrid program in 2012 and Woodbridge got its share of the state money — $3 million — a year later. Construction of the fuel cell started in spring 2016.
Once the microgrid is fully operational, it will provide electricity for Town Hall, the library, the fire station, the Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the Senior Center and the high school. Heat produced by the fuel cell will also be used to warm the high school, said Anthony Marone III, president and chief executive officer of UI’s parent company, UIL Holdings.
UI owns two other fuel cell generating units: one in New Haven’s Annex section and the other at the Bridgeport landfill, said Devang Patel, UI’s general manager. The utility also operates a solar farm at the Bridgeport landfill, Patel said.
Charles Dumais, superintendent of the Amity Regional School District, which includes Woodbridge, Bethany and Orange, said having the fuel cell on the grounds of the high school provides an invaluable education opportunity.
“We have students across all grades of the high school, 9 through 12, some who are in advanced manufacturing class and some who are in advanced placement environmental science,” Dumais said after the ceremony.
The fuel cell power plant was built and installed by FuelCell Energy of Danbury, which operates it under contract with UI.
FuelCell Energy, which has a factory in Torrington, is also designing the microgrid controller that will run its automated operation.
“Woodbridge residents have felt the effects of increasingly severe and frequent storms, with prolonged power outages,” said First Selectman Ellen Scalettar. “Our plan to build one of the first-in-the-nation municipal microgrids will provide comfort and security to our residents.”
Call Luther Turmelle at 203-680-9388.