Siting Council gives blessing to energy park

A rendering of the proposed Beacon Falls Energy Park. –CONTRIBUTED

A rendering of the proposed Beacon Falls Energy Park. –CONTRIBUTED

NEW BRITAIN — The Connecticut Siting Council has given the green light for a fuel cell energy park to be built off of Lopus Road in Beacon Falls.

The council unanimously approved, 5-0, the construction of the 63-megawatt fuel cell energy park proposed by the Middletown-based Beacon Falls Energy Park, LLC at its meeting Thursday.

“I think that five to zero is an affirmative vote by the Siting Council in endorsing the project,” William Corvo, of William Corvo Consultants, Inc. and one of the founders of Beacon Falls Energy Park, LLC, said.

The energy park, dubbed Beacon Falls Energy Park, is planned to be built on a former sand and gravel mine off of Lopus Road owned by O&G Industries, parent of Beacon Falls Energy Park, LLC. The energy park, which is being billed as the largest fuel cell project in the world, will be constructed on about 8 acres of land within the roughly 25-acre site.

The energy park will include 21 fuel cell units, four desulfurization skids, a natural gas meter station, a nitrogen fuel station, four water treatment skids, a control shelter and an electrical switchyard.

The fuel cell units, which are expected to be produced by FuelCell Energy, Inc. of Danbury and Torrington, are about 70 to 100 feet long depending on the type, 43 feet wide and 25.5 feet tall

The site will be accessed by a new 500-foot long, 12-foot wide paved driveway extending south off of Lopus Road.

Beacon Falls Energy Park, LLC must now prepare a development and management plan, which includes final site development plans, construction plans and construction hours. The development and management plan must be submitted to and approved by the council prior to construction starting.

Construction of the energy park, which is expected to break ground this year, must be completed within three years or the council’s ruling is void. Beacon Falls Energy Park, LLC can seek extensions from the council.

The fuel cell park will be constructed in phases and be commercially operational by the end of 2019, according to the company. It’s expected to start producing electricity before construction has been completed because the fuel cells are modular.

The energy park is expected to provide energy to 60,000 Connecticut residents and businesses, according to the company.

The energy park will use 300,000 gallons of water a day, which it will get from the water main on Railroad Avenue. The project will have supplemental on-site water storage, due to water pressure concerns. It will generate 150,000 gallons of waste water per day.

The energy park will also use 7,707 cubic feet of natural gas per minute. A new 8-inch gas main will be extended from existing service on Pondview Circle to the site.

The council did express reservations in its opinion about the amount of carbon dioxide (265,372 tons) that will be emitted per year by the energy park. The council acknowledged that the company has to obtain an air permit from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The fuel cell technology is considered a class 1 renewable energy source by the state of Connecticut. However, the council made a “strong recommendation” regarding the types of fuel cells used in the project.

The project is proposing to use two different types of fuel cells: direct fuel cells and high efficiency fuel cells.

Siting Council Chairman Robert Stein said the high efficiency fuel cells would emit less carbon dioxide.

“Even though [carbon dioxide] is not one of the pollutants mentioned in the state’s class 1 renewable definition, understand that it is an issue and it is a concern. I have a concern that we are building a project that is presumably going to be in production for a number of years, if not a number of decades, and we will not be using the most efficient facility at this time,” Stein said.

Corvo said the energy park will consist of 16 regular fuel cells and five high efficiency fuel cells. The reason the plant is not entirely constructed of high efficiency fuel cells is that these fuel cells are not actually available, yet, he said.

“The [high efficiency fuel cells] are a brand new item and have not actually been out on the market at all. So we would be the first major user of that. We will be in dialogue with our equipment supplier to see what the availability of that equipment will be,” Corvo said.

Corvo said his company is working towards other measures to prevent carbon dioxide emissions.

“We have been examining that situation and we think we have a number of solutions we will be bringing to the party that will help in a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas output. We have always worked with the Siting Council in the past to try and make things better, and that’s what we’re going to do here,” Corvo said.

The energy park will mean a windfall in tax revenue for Beacon Falls. The project is expected to grow the Beacon Falls grand list by 42 percent.

Beacon Falls Economic Development Commission Chairman John “Jack” Betkoski III, who is vice chairman of the state’s Department of Public Utility Regulatory Authority, said this is a “win-win” for the town.

“Certainly from a tax perspective in terms of the revenue the town is going to receive, it’s a win, and it’s one of the safety forms of power generation. The location is also very good because it’s close to a (power) transmission station. … I think eventually it will provide some power to the town, as well.”

Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik was pleased the project was approved and thanked the Siting Council for its hard work.

“I’m grateful for the thoroughness the Siting Council employed in conducting the public hearings. I think they asked a lot of good, probing questions during the public hearings,” Bielik said. “They had the interest of our town up front in making sure the site is a viable one. That’s something I think everyone in Beacon Falls can take heart in, knowing our interests were placed first.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.