Woodbridge First Selectman Beth Heller joined United Illuminating CEO Tony Marone, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee on Monday to celebrate the commissioning of the town’s innovative new microgrid, which will provide reliable power for the town’s police, fire and other emergency services.
The UI-built microgrid, which recently entered service, taps clean, Class 1 renewable energy to provide “always-on” energy to seven critical town facilities in the event that the surrounding power grid goes dark. UI’s new fuel cell at nearby Amity Regional High School serves as its power source.
“As we were reminded during recent extreme weather events, it is crucial that we are able to provide emergency services and shelter to residents who may be without power and heat for days after a storm,” said Heller, during a commissioning ceremony Monday in Woodbridge’s town center. “This unique microgrid will help ensure that these services remain available.”
“Make no mistake, climate change is real, and we must plan for future storms and resulting power outages,” said Malloy. “This project highlights two important initiatives that are driving innovative solutions to challenges that we face as a state: the state Microgrid Pilot Program, which seeks to maintain a high level of reliability of public and utility services; and the Renewable Connections Program, which has expanded the use of clean energy sources in the state.”
Woodbridge initiated the project when it sought and received a $3 million grant from the State of Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation Microgrid Pilot Program. UI, a subsidiary of AVANGRID, Inc. (NYSE: AGR), was engaged to build the microgrid and developed a plan to power it via a new fuel cell at Amity Regional High School.
The fuel cell was completed in 2016. During “blue sky” operations — when the fuel cell is not providing emergency power to the town’s microgrid — it contributes up to 2.2 megawatts of clean, Class-1 renewable energy to the state’s power grid. UI installed the fuel cell to help meet its commitment to generate up to 10 MW of renewable energy under its Renewables Connections Program.
In addition to contributing renewable energy to the power grid and serving as a power source for the town’s microgrid, the fuel cell, which was constructed by FuelCell Energy, Inc. of Danbury, also helps heat the Amity high school. In tandem with the fuel cell construction, the Amity district completed its own project to transfer waste heat from the plant’s operation to the school building’s heating system, reducing heating costs.
“This was an exciting project for us at UI because it met several important objectives at once,” said Marone. “By providing a local renewable generation source, along with the design and construction of a utility-grade microgrid, we delivered an integrated resiliency solution to the Town of Woodbridge. Completing this one-of-a-kind project was the result of a collaborative partnership between United Illuminating, the State of Connecticut, the Amity Regional School District and the Town of Woodbridge.”
Working together, FuelCell Energy and UI engineers designed a unique controller device that activates the microgrid when the surrounding grid loses service during a storm or other event. The device allows the microgrid to be controlled by UI as part of its distribution system even when it is in so-called “island mode,” operating independently of the surrounding power grid.
“Microgrid projects, such as this one in Woodbridge, help to ensure that critical government services are available even when the power goes out,” said DEEP Commissioner Klee. “Connecticut is leading the way in energy innovations, so when the next severe storm hits – and it will hit – we are prepared to respond.”
The microgrid officially entered service in February; it has not yet been activated as part of a storm or other event.
Pictured left to right: Mike Bishop, Sr Vice President, CFO and Treasurer of Fuel Cell Energy; Anthony Marone, CEO of UI; Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Robert Klee; Governor Dannel Malloy; First Selectman Beth Heller; Selectman Joe Crisco; Police Chief Frank Cappiello; Fire Marshal Joe Cappucci