Published August 05. 2013 2:00PM Updated August 06. 2013 12:01AM
Montville — The town hopes to create more than 200 long-term jobs and more than 300 construction jobs if NRG Energy's bid for a $100 million renewable energy project is approved by the by state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
At a press conference on Monday afternoon, state and local officials referred to the proposed project as a "renewable energy park" that would be located on NRG property at 74 Lathrop Road. While NRG has long been interested in converting one of its current natural gas and oil units to use clean wood as its primary fuel source, this project would also include a solar energy farm and fuel cell generators.
"I believe this park will be the showcase for renewable energy in Connecticut," said Jon Baylor, development manager at NRG Energy, who envisions a visitor's center where people can learn about energy production.
The park would cost more than $100 million, said officials, and would be paid for by NRG.
The DEEP plans to approve enough projects to generate a total of 175 megawatts of renewable power in Connecticut, said Dennis Schain, the department's communications director. The deadline for proposal submissions was 5 p.m. Monday, and the department will announce its selections Aug. 20.
"We were able to put in what we consider the best viable bid," said Montville Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel at the press conference.
He said the project would bring jobs, economic benefits and increased property tax revenue to the town. It would also renew the "long-standing ties" between Montville and the energy industry, said McDaniel, in the wake of AES Thames' closure and NRG's operations being scaled back.
The conversion to wood, which is a type of biomass, would help save the Montville energy plant at a time when natural gas is at an "all-time low," Baylor said. Without approval for the project, the plant could potentially face closure, he said.
"This is the state's opportunity to show support to eastern Connecticut," said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-19th District, calling it "vital" to bring living-wage jobs to eastern Connecticut.
The long-term jobs would include work at the plant as well as jobs in forestry and logistics. Osten said the jobs at the plant would be associated with unions and "easily" pay more than $40,000 a year.
The park would generate 50 megawatts of renewable energy, Baylor said. The backbone of the project would be the biomass unit, which would provide up to 42 megawatts of renewable power — enough to support about 32,000 average households — using clean wood as its fuel.
The biomass unit would be created by converting unit 5, which is currently fueled by natural gas and oil. Baylor said that Unit 5 was an ideal candidate for the conversion because of its size and because it was originally designed to handle solid fuel.
The unit would retain the ability to use oil and produce up to 82 megawatts of power during peak demand for energy.
The biomass generator would include controls that would reduce emission nitrogen oxides — pollutants created during combustion — by up to 75 percent, Baylor said.
The park would include two fuel cell generators created by the Connecticut-based company FuelCell Energy. The fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to generate 5.6 megawatts of energy and produce almost no pollution.
"Our plants are well-behaved and make great neighbors," said Ben Toby of FuelCell, explaining that they are clean and quiet.
The solar energy, which can produce up to 2.3 megawatts of energy, will be used when the demand is greatest.
McDaniel said he hoped the project would be the first step in creating a "renewable energy corridor in Southeastern Connecticut."
State Rep. Tim Bowles, D-Preston, called that idea "exciting" and encouraged NRG to work with the University of Connecticut and locations along I-395 to create such a corridor.
If the project is approved, NRG officials said they expect construction to start late this year or early next year and be completed by the end of 2016.