Montville WPCA not raising rates
Montville ― Thanks to capital improvement projects aimed at efficiency, the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority will not have to raise rates for its customers this year.
In late October, Norwich Public Utilities told costumers they would see a 10% to 12% rate increase starting with their November bills. Earlier this month, both Groton Utilities and Eversource warned of rate increases as well. Eversource customers were told their bills could increase by as much as 40%.
The approximately 4,600 sewer and 500 water customers of Montville’s WPCA will not have that same experience.
WPCA Superintendent Derek Albertson gave most of the credit to a fuel cell that produces energy on-site at the facility located at 83 Pink Row.
“The on-site generation has led to significant savings by reducing the transmission costs because most of the power used is generated on-site,” Albertson said.
The $3.5 million fuel cell was installed in June of 2020 and is responsible for 75% to 78% of the electrical needs at the facility. Albertson said it was installed at no cost to the WPCA nor to the town thanks to a partnership between Mayor Ron McDaniel and Eversource.
"The fuel cell costs nothing for the town," said McDaniel at the time. "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."
Albertson said the fuel cell has been nearly perfect in 2022, running at 96% efficiency, meaning that it rarely has to be turned off. The cell generates electricity and heat from natural gas merging with oxygen from the air. Albertson claimed the equipment to be “the best performing” fuel cell in the state as it only goes offline for routine maintenance.
He said that because the cell is so productive on-site, the facility does not need to rely on the standard power grid for electricity, which had a 25% price increase this year alone and it is expected to increase another 25% in 2023.
Albertson said electricity costs have risen throughout the country largely due to rising natural gas prices. He said New England is especially susceptible to natural gas “pricing volatility” because of the infrastructure in place that supplies natural gas to the region. He said southeastern Connecticut relies heavily on natural gas to generate more than 50% of its electric energy.
But because the WPCA can generate so much electricity on-site, the cost increases affecting other parts of the state do not apply to its customers. The transmission costs of getting power supplied by the grid is what drives up the price of utilities, which the WPCA facility avoids with the fuel cell.
Currently, WPCA sewer customers pay $80 per quarter, while water customers pay $45 per quarter.
Albertson also said the facility itself has seen a decrease in demand for electricity. He said turbo blowers, which are machines that blow air into water-processing tanks to help clean wastewater, are a large part of the reason. The six tanks at the facility share three blowers, with each blower rotating between two tanks which never turn off.
“That is becoming the single most important aspect of maintaining these water facilities,” Albertson said.
Albertson said a new turbo blower was recently purchased for $175,000 as part of the 2023 capital improvement plan. He said the blower is more efficient than previous models, which had shown a “significant drop” in electricity consumption. The new blowers are frictionless, so less energy is wasted during use, which allows for a 20-year life span.
He added that Eversource announced in September that the WPCA facility was awarded a $16,000 rebate because of water recycle pumps it installed that are considered “very efficient.” The “smart pumps” use less electricity by ramping up slowly when in use and only pumping as needed. They, too, have a lifespan of 20 years, which Albertson said could expand to 30 years if the pumps are well maintained.
With each enhancement to the facility, the WPCA is helping relieve customers of the rising cost of utilities in the region.
“We’re doing our part to really keep the rates for the utility down and the best way to do that is by saving money on electrical energy,” Albertson said.
With the new efficiency measures in place, Albertson said the facility has already seen a decrease in electricity usage. He and his team routinely monitor the facility’s machines for unusual spikes in energy usage, so if they find a problem, it can be quickly addressed.
“For me, that’s really powerful,” he said. “That’s very exciting.”