Pfizer's alternative energy plants seen as positive sign

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Editor's Note: This article corrects the name of Pfizer's spokesman.

Groton — Pfizer Inc.'s commitment to build a multimillion-dollar fuel-cell power project on its 160-acre campus off Eastern Point Road was hailed Tuesday by city and town leaders as an indication that the pharmaceutical giant is committed to a local presence.

"Whenever Pfizer invests in that property, to me it's a good sign that says they will be here long-term," Marian Galbraith, city mayor, said in a phone interview. "This is a huge investment ... That's good news for us."

"Folks are always looking for some sign of Pfizer's commitment to the city and region," added Town Manager Mark Oefinger. "It's a positive sign that will hopefully put to rest the focus on (questions about) Pfizer's future in the community."

Danbury-based FuelCell Energy Inc. announced Monday that it would be completing by this summer two fuel cell power plants with a generating capacity of 5.6 megawatts.

The system will be used during normal operations in conjunction with power supplied by Groton Public Utilities as well as acting as a backup electricity supplier during emergencies, the company said.

Pfizer said the main reason for its interest in building a new power system revolved around "improving the power quality to our sensitive R&D equipment and enabling our business functions to be self sufficient 24/7."

Spokesman Dean Mastrojohn also cited the chance to use environmentally friendly technology.

But Pfizer is not actually paying for plant construction directly.

FuelCell Energy is prefabricating the plant off-site and paying for installation in an acre-and-a-half parcel on the north campus in an enterprise zone, Pfizer said.

The fuel-cell company also will manage the plant over the life of a 20-year contract.

No financial information for the electricity expenses or plant construction was released, but Pfizer said cost-cutting was not a major factor in its decision to contract with FuelCell Energy.

"This is a turn-key project for Pfizer," Mastrojohn said in an email. "Pfizer will pay a negotiated rate for all kilowatt hours produced."

The alternative-energy plants, which can provide power using clean natural gas or biofuels, are expected to substantially reduce the amount of carbon emissions and other pollutants on site.

According to a release from FuelCell Energy, the new system will cut more than 28,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, which equals removing pollution from 5,300 cars traveling on the roads.

The fuel-cell plants use a chemical process to virtually eliminate pollutants, according to the company, while operating quietly in urban settings.

City and town officials were unsure Tuesday about the tax consequences of the project, but Pfizer said there are no tax abatements involved so construction should mean additional revenues for government coffers.

That would be good news for the city and town, which lost substantial taxable property when Pfizer two years ago finished demolishing the massive former research headquarters known as Building 118.

Pfizer's commitment to Connecticut has been sorely tested in recent years as the company sold off its former research-and-development headquarters in New London six years ago and cut its local workforce in half to a current tally of 3,000 employees.

In addition, the company moved its drug-discovery research site from Groton to the Boston area so scientists would be closer to one of the nation's top academic centers while maintaining the local labs as Pfizer's main pharmaceutical-development center.

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

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