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Montville Water Pollution Control Authority facility gets a fuel cell

Montville — The Water Pollution Control Authority just found an alternative way to power its plant.

A device known as a fuel cell, which generates electricity and heat from natural gas merging with oxygen from the air, was installed at the WPCA facility last week. The equipment represents a partnership between the WPCA and Eversource Energy, according to WPCA Superintendent Derek Albertson and Mayor Ron McDaniel.

McDaniel described how the town saves money from the new energy source.

"The fuel cell costs nothing for the town," he said. "The third party gets a tax credit for putting it in. They produce the energy and sell it back to us at a reduced cost. The third party, VFS Energy Services, installs the fuel cell, maintains it, manages it. They pay us back for the gas that goes into the fuel cell, and we end up getting billed for the electricity."

Steve Pearson of VFS wrote in an email that the WPCA is receiving a fixed per kilowatt hour price in the power purchase agreement that will always be below the cost of getting the energy from the public grid. He also explained Eversource's involvement in the deal: The utility company is allowing the fuel cell to "net meter" with its public grid, which basically means that if the fuel cell produces more energy than the town uses, the excess energy is sent to the grid.

"The State of Connecticut is very good for fuel cell projects," Pearson wrote.

McDaniel said the WPCA is guaranteed a savings of at least $50,000 a year from the fuel cell.

If the fuel cell produces more energy than the WPCA facility uses, “they actually have to write us a check," he said. "They're projecting based on our usage, over 20 years we're going to save an average of $66,000 a year."

In addition to the projected savings, Albertson said, going with the fuel cell was an environmentally conscious decision. It's an energy-efficient source that provides for on-site generation of electricity and, though it does run on natural gas, produces little to no emissions.

He said the fuel cell will provide between one-third and one-half of the energy necessary to run the plant.

Savings from the fuel cell could help the WPCA, which is losing some revenue from the closure of commercial businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Albertson noted. The WPCA is barred from shutting off water for customers who are late on payments for the time being. This is per Gov. Ned Lamont's Declaration of Public Health and Civil Preparedness Emergencies, which temporarily suspends "utility service terminations for residential customers for non-payment." Staff members still are on call 24/7 for any water- or sewer-related emergencies.

A number of WPCAs have this fuel cell technology, Albertson said, including the Naugatuck and Waterbury wastewater treatment plants. The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funds fuel cell projects and tracks fuel cell activities and accomplishments throughout the country.

s.spinella@theday.com

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