Borough eyes fuel cells to save energy


NAUGATUCK — The borough is working on a plan to help solve some of its issues at the local wastewater treatment plant by installing fuel cells to help drive down energy costs there.

Last week, a South Windsor-based company called Doosan Fuel Cell America, Inc., presented a plan to the Board of Mayor and Burgess that would include adding fuel cells onto the old Uniroyal Chemical Co. property off Cherry Street Extension alongside the Naugatuck River. The energy generated from the project could be pumped into the wastewater treatment plant, which Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said is one of the largest energy users in New Haven County.

Doosan is talking about installing three of its large fuel cells on the property at no cost to the borough as the company will get money from selling its energy to Eversource. Doosan has guaranteed Naugatuck a first-year electricity savings of $150,000. Once the fuel cells are installed, the company estimates it will save an additional $440,000 a year by replacing 71,000 gallons of oil for natural gas, a number local officials say is not guaranteed and might be high.

“The savings will be significant, that is guaranteed, but I’m not sure that number is 100 percent accurate,” Hess said. “It may end up being accurate; it remains to be seen.”

The borough will also get free heat for the incinerator at the treatment plant, the savings for which has not yet been calculated. And Naugatuck will pay below the average yearly grid price for electricity to power the plant even if the prices go down.

The company pays for all upfront costs, including equipment, installation, natural gas and service.

Doosan says it is a $17 billion corporation, a figure that includes its other major U.S. brand, Bobcat Equipment and Attachments, which makes farm and construction equipment.

The fuel cell model it wants to install in Naugatuck works by converting natural gas into hydrogen. The hydrogen goes through a fuel cell stack to generate direct current power. An inverter generates high quality alternating currents of power. And an internal heat recovery system generates hot water.

Hess said the borough will use the savings from the fuel cells in its negotiating strategy with Veolia Water North America, the private company that operates Naugatuck’s wastewater treatment plant through a complex revenue sharing agreement. The company, which pays the electrical bill at the plant, has shut down its incinerator because it says Naugatuck is out of compliance with federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements that say the borough must put about $86 million worth of upgrades to mitigate pollution. Naugatuck has not done that and EPA had threatened to shut down the incinerator before Veolia shut it down for fear of being out of compliance with a federal mandate.

The incinerator shutdown means Veolia will make less money on private contracts this year and will therefore have less revenue to share with Naugatuck.

The fuel cell project will not solve Naugatuck’s problems EPA. However, it will help in an ongoing legal battle that Naugatuck is facing with Veolia over revenue sharing and other issues.

“This fuel cell proposal is an additional item that we’re bringing up in negotiations so we can try to resolve all of our issues with Veolia, and there are many,” Hess said.

He believes the project will go forward and said it does not require any state approval. Additionally, he said, Naugatuck has been promised a grant from Eversource to pay for a gas line extension at the project.