Distributed Energy Resources

CMEEC plays key role in submarine base microgrid

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy on Sept. 5 announced the release of $5 million of state grant money to establish a microgrid at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) in Groton.

A key part of the microgrid project hinged on the participation of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, which had previously entered into an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) agreement with the Navy for property on the SUBASE to host a fuel cell park. CMEEC was selected by the Navy as the most qualified to develop the distributed generation project following a competitive solicitation and review process.

The 7.4-megawatt natural gas-fed fuel cell will supply power to both the SUBASE and to Groton Utilities, the public power distribution utility that serves the city of Groton and the SUBASE. Groton Utilities is one of the six member utilities of CMEEC, which supplies Groton’s electric power. The other five member utilities are Norwich Public Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power, Jewett City Department of Public Utilities, South Norwalk Electric & Water, and the Third Taxing District of East Norwalk.

“We were a catalyst on the fuel cell part of the project and helped facilitate putting in place the grant for the microgrid,” Drew Rankin, CEO of CMEEC, said. CMEEC is also serving as the project manager for construction of the microgrid.

CMEEC is contracting for the fuel cell capacity and production versus the more typical model of physical ownership. There are investment tax credits associated with the fuel cell that the utility would not be able to use. Instead, they will be “monetized in the take-or-pay” power purchase agreement with FuelCell Energy, Rankin said. FuelCell Energy of Danbury, Conn., also manufactured the fuel cells. The groundbreaking for the fuel cell park took place in July.

The fuel cells will be another milestone, and an anchor to, the SUBASE microgrid capability that increases military value by enhancing the energy resiliency, efficiency, and security of the SUBASE. In addition, the project supports U.S. Navy energy programs aimed at reducing the Navy's consumption of energy, decrease its reliance on foreign sources of oil, and increase its use of alternative energy.

During normal operation, energy from the fuel cell will be used to provide power to Groton Utilities versus the grid. If there is a blackout or other service disruption, the microgrid will isolate from Groton Utilities to operate in “island mode,” with the fuel cells used to supply the critical operations of the SUBASE. Additionally, outside the SUBASE itself, CMEEC has 15 MW of distributed generation, 750 kW of energy storage and about 8 MW of solar power within Groton Utilities’ territory that it can call on to provide power for the city in an emergency. In essence, the SUBASE microgrid will effectively sit inside a distribution system microgrid, further enhancing regional resiliency.

The ability of the fuel cell to act as a microgrid and separate itself from the grid so as to continue supplying power to the SUBASE during an emergency is being facilitated by an upgrade of the Navy owned distribution system within SUBASE property.

That system is dated and “primed for investment,” Rankin said.

The upgrade of the SUBASE’s distribution system and the installation of the equipment and controls that will facilitate the microgrid is being funded by the $5 million grant from the state of Connecticut in coordination with the Connecticut Microgrid Program, which was created by Malloy and is administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Instead of lease payments over 20 years for use of the SUBASE site, CMEEC is making a one time, initial “in kind contribution” to the Navy in the form of about $500,000 worth of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) control equipment, which is part of the EUL, Rankin said.

Installing a microgrid at the SUBASE addresses concern identified in 2005 during a Base Realignment and Closure assessment, a federal process that is used to close or downsize unneeded military bases. The Groton SUBASE is vulnerable to BRAC closure because of its lack of stand-alone electrical capability and single point of failure. The next round of BRAC assessments is expected in 2021.

The fuel cell was not undertaken as a “direct strategic investment” for Groton Utilities or CMEEC, but rather as part of CMEEC’s effort to “customize solutions for evolving customer needs,” Rankin said. The output from the fuel cell will advance the CMEEC Sustainability Program and also allow CMEEC to avoid purchasing power from the New England wholesale market, he said.

Connecticut’s power prices are among the highest in the nation. That makes it a little easier to do the math and make the economics work, Rankin said.

The fuel cell also generates heat during operation, which can be used to provide local heating needs. Rankin says CMEEC could eventually use the heat from the fuel cell, as well as the power. There also could be a second phase of the project for additional generation capacity. “We would look to do that as well,” Rankin said.

Connecticut’s microgrid program was developed in 2012 in response to multiple storms that resulted in widespread outages. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection conducted competitive solicitations in 2013 and 2014 and received applications from 2015 to 2017. To date, the agency has issued $18.4 million in grants for 10 projects. Nine of those projects are in operation. The tenth is under construction.