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Coventry OKs plan for microgrid application

By EKATERINE TCHELIDZE

Chronicle Staff Writer

COVENTRY — When disaster strikes — as it did in 2011 when a tropical storm and, later, a freak October snowstorm, turned off power for days — the lights at Coventry facilities may stay on.

After long deliberations, both the town council and board of education authorized a private company to apply for a state grant to cover the cost of a microgrid electrical system in town.

The council vote was unanimous, while the school board voted 4-1.

The joint meeting was Monday night. Both the town and board of education were required to vote because the microgrid would benefit both municipal and school facilities.

An operating microgrid would keep the power on at town and school sites that could be used for emergency shelters for the public and/or emergency officials dealing with a crisis.

Some officials claimed the town should wait because of how rushed the process has been, with the deadline apply for the grant being a few weeks away.

“I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s being rushed,” said Coventry Board of Education Chairman Jennifer Beausoleil. “We received materials Thursday and it’s Monday. I would support waiting, having a more thorough package, having a more thorough opportunity to ask questions before voting ‘yes.’”

The idea of a microgrid system is to to convert natural gas into energy, which will automatically turn on during power outages affecting public buildings in town.

The project won't cost the town any fees and will not influence taxes.

“For some reason people think this will increase taxes,” Elsesser said. “It will not. The town is not paying anything. And one of the requirements we have is to save money.”

Elsesser said the town will be buying energy at a lower rate for the next 20 years.

John O’Brien, co-owner of EcoSolar Installations of Branford, one of the vendors that will work to create the system, said solar energy will also be incorporated into the system.

O’Brien said the primary receivers of microgrid energy will be Coventry Town Hall, the police and fire departments, the Coventry School District, administrative buildings and Orchard Hills Estates, the town’s senior housing complex.

According to O’Brien, the maximum grant the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection can award is $4 million and the deadline to apply is Dec. 31.

Representatives from EcoSolar and Tunalow Energy Ingenuity of Simsbury presented the council and the board of education with a memorandum of understanding to sign.

Because of the time constraints, the memorandum appeared to be a draft, asking both parties to authorize Coventry Microgrid LLC to apply for the grant.

The problem is, Coventry Microgrid LLC doesn’t exist yet.

Coventry Town Manager John Elsesser, however, said the entity will be official by the time application deadline.

Coventry Microgrid LLC will be comprised of the three total vendors working on the project, which are EcoSolar Installations, Tumalow Energy Ingenuity and Pequot Clean Energy of Branford.

Elsesser said the memorandum is not a contract, but just a transitional document that shows the town is moving forward with the process.

“I think this is an exciting opportunity,” said Councilman Matthew O’Brien. “I think it’s well-intended and they will come out with a good project.”

John O’Brien said after the application is submitted, DEEP has three months to follow up with questions.

If the grant is awarded, the project will begin three or four months into the next year.

 

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