Energy park elicits enthusiasm, concerns

Beacon Hose Company No. 1 Fire Chief Jim Trzaski speaks to the Connecticut Siting Council about a proposed fuel cell park expected to be built in Beacon Falls Nov. 5 at the firehouse. –REPUBICAN-AMERICAN
Beacon Hose Company No. 1 Fire Chief Jim Trzaski speaks to the Connecticut Siting Council about a proposed fuel cell park expected to be built in Beacon Falls Nov. 5 at the firehouse. –REPUBICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — The consensus among those that turned out for a public hearing last week on the proposed Beacon Falls Energy Park was the project would be a boon for the town. But, residents still had their share of concerns.

Beacon Falls Energy Park, LLC, has proposed building a 63-megawatt fuel cell energy park on a former sand and gravel mine owned by O&G Industries, parent of the limited liability company proposing the project. The energy park, which is being billed as the largest fuel cell project in the world, would be constructed on 8 acres of land within the 23.8-acre site off Lopus Road.

The Connecticut Siting Council, which has authority over such projects, came to Beacon Falls Nov. 5 to look at the proposed site and get feedback from the public on the project. About 45 residents attended an evening hearing on the project at the firehouse. Nine residents addressed the council.

Resident Shawn McSherry, who lives on Gruber Road near where the project is being proposed, believes the project would be an asset to the town, but voiced concerns about the amount of noise the energy park would produce and the methods proposed to reduce noise.

“They are talking about putting a sound wall along the top of Gruber Road. Is that going to have a negative impact, bouncing the noise of the traffic back at us,” McSherry asked.

McSherry was also concerned about the amount of light that the energy park would produce.

The developers have said since the energy park will be built at a lower elevation than the surrounding properties, the light shouldn’t affect residents.

“Ansonia is in a hole and I can see that on a good night,” McSherry said.

Former First Selectman Susan Cable raised a concern regarding security at the energy park. Cable said she had been told that the security would consist primarily of a fence and would be monitored from an offsite location.

“This is going to be the largest in the country, and it is being glorified as that, so security is an issue in our little suburban town,” Cable said. “We only have one police officer on duty and things can happen. So I would ask, in their plans, that there be a more detailed security program in line with this facility.”

Beacon Hose Company No. 1 Fire Chief Jim Trzaski has expressed concerns about the amount of water the energy park will use and how it will impact the department’s efforts to fight fires in the area. He is still concerned.

“On the fire department side our concern is the amount (of water) being used. We calculated it at about 200 gallons per minute. So we are looking for a finalization for an alternative method for the use of water,” Trzaski said.

The council didn’t answer questions raised at the hearing, but recorded them. A transcript of the questions asked and the answers to them are expected to be posted on the council’s website,

Overall, the general feeling was the project is a positive for the town.

If the energy park is built, it’s expected to boost the grand list by 42 percent, which means a new windfall of tax revenue.

“It is a tremendous addition to the grand list,” First Selectman Chris Bielik said. “Our current grand list is about $479 million; back-of-the-envelope figures for approximately what this plant is going to bring to town is a grand list increase of about $200 million in one shot. … That’s about 42 percent.”

Bielik added the energy park could have potential fringe benefits, such as the possibility of Eversource Energy having a reason to bring in natural gas, which he believes will entice other businesses.

Although there were questions that needed to be answered, resident Brian Horgan said the energy park is the type of change the town needs.

“We need changes like this that are going to bring tax dollars to our town. I’m sure there are a lot of unanswered questions. Things are going to have to be worked out along the way, but this is a great opportunity to produce electricity. Rates are rising and maybe we can save some money here,” Horgan said.

After the hearing adjourned William Corvo, of William Corvo Consultants, Inc. and one of the founders of Beacon Falls Energy Park, LLC, said he was encouraged by what he had heard.

“I didn’t hear anybody say anything negative, there were just normal questions and concerns that anybody would have if they lived in proximity,” Corvo said.

Connecticut Siting Council Chairman Robert Stein said the public has until Dec. 4 to submit comments or questions regarding the project. Any written correspondence received by the council would be given the same weight as if it had been asked at the hearing, he said.

While the council is waiting to receive correspondence, Corvo said, the energy park will be negotiating an agreement with Eversource for the gas transportation line, finishing the agreements and feasibility studies with Eversource for the interconnection with the electricity, and completing additional engineering work with ISO New England, a non-profit regional transmission organization, to be able to connect to the electric grid.

“Then we have to answer all the questions that were raised by the Siting Council and hand them the [Development and Management] Plan,” Corvo said. “Once that’s done it’s really up to them to give us the green light to go ahead with the development.”