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With fuel cell fully operational, Montville anticipates energy savings

Montville — As of June 24, the Water Pollution Control Authority fuel cell is officially providing onsite power generation.

Fuel cells generate electricity and heat from natural gas merging with oxygen from the air. Montville installed one at the Water Pollution Control Facility in April. The equipment represents a partnership between the WPCA and Eversource Energy, according to WPCA Superintendent Derek Albertson and Mayor Ron McDaniel.

Facility staff will monitor the unit’s electrical generation and future Eversource billing to determine the reduction in power demand. Albertson said he’s looking forward to seeing cost savings that will come from the fuel cell.

“The fuel cell is considered on-site generation, which will be between a third and a half of power for the plant. It's noncombustible, low-carbon-footprint energy generation,” Albertson said. “Normally, we use a broker to purchase electrical power off the grid, and the power is generated at a remote location — I believe in Texas or Louisiana. We pay a charge to have that power transmitted to our facility via Eversource. We monitor those bills closely because it's between $50,000 and $70,000 a month for the facility.”

“What we should see in our next billing is half the demand from power off the grid,” Albertson continued.

McDaniel sees the fuel cell as part of an overall environmental and economic vision for the town.

“This is another exciting step in the town’s efforts to use clean energy while providing substantial savings to the ratepayers,” he said. “The fuel cell is a great example of working with a public/private relationship to make positive changes for the future. I am hopeful that we can replicate this elsewhere in town.”

Albertson said McDaniel was looking for a good place to put the fuel cell, and settled on the Water Pollution Control Facility.

“The mayor has made this a priority — he wanted to see it put somewhere that it would have the most benefit, the wastewater treatment plant being a giant hole that sucks energy,” Albertson said. “It's going to make the biggest difference here.”

When planning for the fuel cell, there was some concern it would be so loud as to affect neighbors, but, Albertson said, it’s quiet, and it can only be heard within 20 to 30 feet of its location.

McDaniel described how the town saves money from the new energy source in April, saying the fuel cell costs nothing for the town.

"The third party gets a tax credit for putting it in,” McDaniel said. “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 in April 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.

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

s.spinella@theday.com

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