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    Monday, May 27, 2024

    Construction of fuel cell park at sub base delayed

    Groton — The construction of a 7.4-megawatt fuel cell park at the Naval Submarine Base has been delayed due to more granite rock at the site than anticipated and the need for blasting, which requires approval from the Navy.

    The fuel cell park now is expected to be fully operational by March 2020.

    Early, initial projections indicated the project would be complete by the end of May 2019, but that had been revised to late 2019, and now early next year. When complete, it will supply electric power to the base and the local power grid.

    The granite rock needs to be blasted to make room for concrete to be poured for the bases of the fuel cell units. Danbury-based FuelCell Energy is designing, manufacturing and overseeing the installation of the fuel cell park.

    Tom Gelston, vice president of investor relations for FuelCell Energy, said the delay won't result in increased costs. The company in early March secured a loan worth up to $23 million from Fifth Third Bank to finance the construction of the project, of which it has drawn down $10 million. The project is expected to cost about $30 million.

    Once the project is complete, FuelCell Energy will sell the power generated by the fuel cells to the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, or CMEEC, which oversees the local grid and has entered into a 20-year power purchase agreement with the Navy.

    CMEEC officials have said the company anticipates saving between $1 million and $2.5 million per year for the next 20 years as a result. Due to the delay to the project, the company will not recoup anticipated savings in 2019, said Mike Lane, CFO and interim CEO.

    The fuel cell park will produce about 64 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. By comparison, a typical home in Connecticut consumes about 7,200 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

    Fuel cells use an electrochemical process and natural gas to produce electricity. They also produce as byproducts heat and water that can be used for other purposes.

    Capt. Paul Whitescarver, commanding officer of the sub base, said the fuel cell park will supply more than half of the electrical power on base. In the event of a blackout, the base could tap into the fuel cell park's output, and it would meet all the base's critical power needs.

    The Navy, at large, has outlined a goal of relying more on alternative sources of energy and reducing reliance on foreign sources of oil. Energy is the single largest cost for Navy installations. Reducing energy costs frees up money for other purposes such as operations and improving tactical performance, Whitescarver has said.

    j.bergman@theday.com

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