Renewable energy projects vying for state power deals

At least six renewable energy projects proposed for sites in southeastern Connecticut are vying to be chosen next month for power purchase agreements with the state's two largest utilities.

The projects include solar energy facilities in Bozrah, Lebanon and Franklin, all proposed by New York-based Allco Finance, as well as a solar energy facility in Canterbury proposed by Con Edison Development of Valhalla, N.Y., and another for a site in East Haddam proposed by Nautilus Solar Energy of Summit, N.J. These five join NRG Energy's bid for its biomass energy project in Montville.

These six are among 45 proposals being considered by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for selection under its renewable energy procurement program. In July, DEEP solicited proposals for "grid-scale" renewable energy projects that would generate least 20 megawatts per hour each. The DEEP plans to choose projects that would produce a total of 176 megawatts, or about 4 percent of the state's energy demand, DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said Friday.

Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating would then be required by DEEP's utility regulatory division, the Department of Public Utility Control, to negotiate 20-year power purchase agreements with the chosen companies.

"We would tell the utilities to buy the power," DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty said in an interview with The Day's editorial board on Thursday, adding that this is the first round of a long-term strategy to increase the amount of renewable energy available in Connecticut to 20 percent of the total by 2020.

Esty said the selections would be announced in early to mid-September.

"We've seen a mix of things come in through this process," Esty said, referring to the range of wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and other project proposals. Some of the projects would be built in Connecticut, while others are proposed for sites in Maine, Massachusetts and elsewhere in the New England region.

With the power purchase agreements, the project developers would be able to obtain construction financing needed to make their projects a reality, Esty said.

Eligible projects are those that generate electricity without greenhouse gas emissions - including solar, wind, tidal, biomass fuel cells, anaerobic digesters and hydroelectric plants under 30 megawatts - and do not create environmental or resource issues on waterways, Schain said.

The NRG proposal to convert its plant at 74 Lathrop Road to a renewable energy park has been well publicized, receiving support from Mayor Ronald McDaniel and local legislators. The Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Southeastern Connecticut Central Labor Council and the New London-Norwich Building & Construction Trades Council all sent letters to DEEP supporting the project, citing employment, tax revenues and other benefits to the local economy.

The other proposals for southeastern Connecticut, however, are less well-known. Canterbury First Selectman Brian Sear said Friday that he had heard rumors about a solar facility proposed for the town, but there has been no official contact with Con Edison Development. According to filings with DEEP, the company is proposing to locate an array of solar cells on 65 acres on Lisbon Road that would generate 22 megawatts of electricity. Sear said a main power transmission line is located in the area.

"It would be wonderful," he said. "I'm glad there's a developer looking to make productive use of some of our open land."

Con Edison Development officials could not be reached for comment Friday. According to its proposal, the company has an option to purchase 30 acres for the project and another option to lease 35 acres.

The Allco solar projects on South Road in Bozrah, Route 87 in Lebanon and on Williams Crossing in Franklin, along with a fourth site in the northwest corner town of Harwinton, would generate up to 80 megawatts of power, Chris Little, director of development for the company, said Friday. The company has purchase or lease options with the various landowners, he said. Allco already operates solar farms in Indiana, along with sites on the East and West coasts, Little said.

"Typically we hire as much local labor as possible," he said. The Connecticut projects would also create both short- and long-term local jobs in surveying, engineering, construction and operation and maintenance of the solar farms, he added.

The sites were chosen both for their proximity to main transmission lines and topography, Little said.

"The number one criteria is that they need to be sited next to transmission lines," he said.

The state's program for awarding the power purchase agreements, Little said, made Connecticut an attractive place to develop a solar farm, because it will make it possible to obtain private loans.

"This is the ideal mechanism to finance a solar project," he said.

Little information is available on the Nautilus Solar proposal for East Haddam. The address and other details of the project were redacted from documents on the DEEP website. Neither company officials nor East Haddam First Selectman Mark Walter could be reached for comment Friday.

j.benson@theday.com

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