Fuel cells, infrastructure the focus of CT Studios' progress

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Mar. 6, 2013

With annual tax revenues projected to be $1 million, Connecticut Studios, LLC, is poised to be an economic powerhouse in South Windsor and a boon to the region. With the addition of two fuel cells to the project, the movie studio will be an electric powerhouse as well, and the clean-energy generators are currently keystones to the financing plan of this long-awaited project.

The addition of the five megawatt fuel cells has qualified CT Studios to apply for state funds through the Microgrid Grant and Loan Pilot Program. The first program of its kind in the nation, the program would pay for the preliminary design and engineering costs associated with the fuel cells' installation, to be paid for by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Of the 36 applications submitted, 27 were selected to move on to the final round of consideration, the DEEP announced on Feb. 27. CT Studios was one of them.

The program is funded by $15 million recommended by Gov. Dannel Malloy, with approval from the General Assembly and state Bond Commission. The project is largely a response to the multiple blackouts the state has sustained in recent years.

“Governor Malloy made clear that we would not take a business-as-usual approach to responding to the catastrophic storms we have experienced in recent years – and the microgrid program is evidence of his leadership on this issue,” said DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Etsy.

South Windsor Town Manager Matthew Galligan originally wanted the fuel cells to back-feed to the sewer plant, CREC school, and Pleasant Valley School. This would provide the town with multiple shelters and warming stations in the event of an emergency. If permitted by the state, the power could also be back-fed via overhead lines to the police station, town hall, high school and possibly the community center.

However, this grid was deemed too large by DEEP, which only has limited funds for each microgrid project. While a hotel on the CT Studios campus could be utilized as an emergency shelter during a power outage, Galligan said that he and CT Studios were disappointed by the “shrunk” grid.

Galligan updated town councilors on the CT Studios project at their council meeting on Monday, March 4. The focus was on infrastructure changes that will result from the construction of the studio and the additional traffic it will generate. Public improvements include changes to Route 30 and Route 5 to accommodate new traffic, as required by the state Traffic Commission, as well as updates to water lines, sewers, utilities and public parking.

However, there were some items proposed by CT Studios that Galligan did not consider public, such as additional parking in the hotel area. He also considered the $12 million cost of the public improvements “ridiculous.”

“The developer can put anything he wants in there for public improvements, but there's one bottom line,” Galligan told the council. “The bottom line is that the Town Council decides public improvements along with your Bond Council.”

Finalizing the details of these public improvements will require an oversight board. Galligan said he would not use a 63-20 corporation, as had been previously discussed, suggesting instead a 501(c)(3) administered by his consultant, Dan Marsh, which could use guaranteed maximum contracts, or G-Max prices, and would have a representative making anonymous decisions. This is preferable to using a 63-20, he explained, which would require representatives from the developer. He feared that giving CT Studios a “seat at the table” would yield control over the decision-making process. “We really need to make sure we have every bit of control on this group to get it done,” said Galligan.

According to Galligan, the improvements will be paid by income made through a power purchase agreement, in which the utility company will purchase power from CT Studios' fuel cells for 20 years. “The PPA is a very strong financial tool that will be backed by the utility company, and the revenue of that one item alone will pay for the public improvements,” said Galligan. 

Galligan stated that the infrastructure project would be $9 to $10 million, rather than $12 million.

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