Borough eyes micro grid for buildings

NAUGATUCK — Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess is pushing to bring cheaper, greener energy to borough-owned buildings.

Energy consultant Advanced Energy Efficiencies is coming up with a plan to power Naugatuck High School, Western School, the now borough-owned former armory building, and possibly additional businesses along Rubber Avenue. They hope to apply for a micro grid grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to pay for the project, which would cost the borough nothing.

The deadline to apply for the next round of grants is Jan. 1.

The idea, Hess said, is to create an area that would become a safe zone during a natural disaster that takes out power to the rest of the borough.

That’s why including businesses like Mount View Plaza, with its grocery store and bank, as well as a nearby gas station, would make sense. It would allow residents to access essential needs during a storm, while the borough could set up shelters in the public buildings.

But consultant Gary Hale said none of the businesses he’s reached out to so far have responded.

With climate change and projections of more severe storms, Hale said, the self-sufficient micro grid is more important than ever.

“We’re hoping that we can get to them,” he said. “Even if we never have to use the micro grid for its intended purpose, participants would enjoy less expensive electricity.”

The consultants are currently looking at using combined heat and power technology that works similarly to a fuel cell, but uses natural gas to power an engine that creates electricity. The process meets the strictest air quality standards in the nation, Hale said.

The plan would incorporate the solar panels already installed at the high school, and perhaps add panels on the other buildings.

The consultants considered using a fuel cell, which is even more efficient, for the project, but Hale said the three borough-owned buildings wouldn’t justify the amount of power a fuel cell would produce. The buildings use 2.25 to 2.5 megawatts of power, he said.

Hess said the plan would both reduce the borough’s carbon footprint and its electricity bill.

Because designing and building the system is so complicated, Hale said only a few other municipalities have successfully applied for the grant since the program was started six or seven years ago.