Renewable energy projects sought for Preston Riverwalk property

Preston - The Preston Redevelopment Agency hopes to explore the possibility of attracting renewable energy projects to the former Norwich Hospital property by first hiring a firm to conduct a land use study to determine the best areas for energy generation.

PRA Chairman Sean Nugent asked for support from the Board of Selectmen Thursday for the concept of advertising for proposals from land use firms to conduct an assessment of the 393-acre Preston Riverwalk property.

Nugent said he also would like to explore whether the PRA could steer any renewable energy developments that would not be suitable for the Preston Riverwalk property to other possible sites in town. PRA officials plan to meet with the Planning and Zoning Commission at its Aug. 26 meeting to discuss whether the town could share the cost of the land use study and expand the study to cover the entire town.

If the study is done, the PRA then would like to advertise for renewable energy development proposals that would comply with the land use study.

Nugent said the PRA is receiving increasing interest by renewable energy companies in the Preston Riverwalk property but currently does not have the expertise to evaluate proposals. For example, he said, some companies claim projects could provide enough energy to cover the entire town, but experts have countered that projects really could only produce enough energy for a small area, such as the Preston Riverwalk development.

The town has a unique situation when it comes to electric power on the Riverwalk property. While the town is in the Connecticut Light & Power electric franchise, the state had generated its own power at the former Norwich Hospital property, leaving the property now without a franchise holder.

Norwich Public Utilities, however, has the natural gas franchise rights in Preston, including the former hospital property.

Also Thursday, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to recommend two candidates to fill five-year vacancies on the PRA. Andy Depta and William Cummings, registered Republicans, were interviewed and recommended by the PRA for the two positions. By state statute, residents must approve the appointments, and selectmen voted to place the item on the Sept. 11 town meeting agenda.

Both were briefly interviewed by selectmen Thursday. Depta said he is retired and has time and expertise in budgeting, economic development and project operations. Depta, a former longtime Led yard resident, served in that town on elected boards including the Town Council, school board and Planning and Zoning Commission.

Cummings is vice president of Tarantino Landscapes of Bridgeport and vice president of operations of Hocon Gas. He told selectmen his work would come first in priority, but he has flexibility and is very much interested in the Preston Riverwalk development.

The PRA received three applications for the two vacancies. Ted Matsumoto narrowly came in third in the PRA's ranking of the three candidates.

"Unfortunately, we have three highly qualified candidates and only two vacancies," the PRA letter forwarding the recommendations to the Board of Selectmen said.
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