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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

The Day: Sub Base to house fuel cell park

October 19, 2017
In The News

Groton — Navy and energy officials on Thursday celebrated a deal being reached to site a 7.4 megawatt fuel cell park on the Naval Submarine Base.

The multi-million dollar fuel cell project, which has been years in the works, will supply electric power to the base and the local power grid. The location of the two fuel cells on base will strengthen its energy security and reliability, officials said at an event marking the 20-year purchase power agreement between the Navy and the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, or CMEEC.

The fuel cell park will eliminate energy losses over transmission lines, keep energy investment dollars within the state and region, and preserve local economic and military value in the event of a grid outage, said Drew Rankin, executive director of CMEEC.

Danbury-based FuelCell Energy designed the power plants, will manufacture them in Connecticut, will manage the installation of the plants, and will then sell the power to CMEEC, said Kurt Guard, vice president of investor relations with FuelCell Energy.

The project is made possible through an enhanced use lease, in which construction or renovations on federal property is funded by a private developer leasing property, in this case a small parcel of land adjacent to the base's power substation, with rent paid by the developer in the form of cash or in-kind service such as power and equipment upgrades.

Energy expenses are the single largest cost for Navy installations, according to Capt. Paul Whitescarver, commanding officer of the sub base, which has $10 million-plus in energy costs per year, about 25 percent of the annual operating budget.

Cost savings through projects such as this "free up dollars that can be used in the fleet to support operations and improve the tactical performance of forces," Whitescarver said.

In addition to the fuel cell park, the base continues to pursue the development of a micro grid, "which will enhance our power diversification, our physical and energy security, and most certainly our community collaboration," Whitescarver added.

Energy costs were a huge factor in determining military value during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process, said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. The base narrowly escaped closure then.

Courtney noted that Congress was in the "final strokes" of a defense bill that doesn't include a BRAC round, which the Pentagon has repeatedly asked for in recent years. But that "doesn't necessarily mean that's a perpetual state of affairs," he said, noting a report released Wednesday by Defense Secretary James Mattis on excess infrastructure capacity in the military.

Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs, which was set up to defend the base against any future closures or downsizing, said with the fuel cell project "we now have in place a way to address power vulnerability." No one in Connecticut should fear BRAC, he said in an interview after the event.

In remarks during the event, Ross estimated that 250 to 300 people, a combination of government and private sector officials, had been involved in the project in some capacity.

"It's been a long haul," he said.

Whitescarver challenged Mike Bishop, chief financial officer of FuelCell Energy to complete the project by the time his tour ends in January 2019 "because I'm the finishing guy."

Bishop said his company was "absolutely up for this challenge."

The event closed out, as they often do at the base, with a cake. This time with the words "Celebrating Another Energy Milestone" written in icing on top.