Here Come Microgrids!

Connecticut Leads the Wasy

Martin Rosenberg | Sep 29, 2013

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 After a devastating blizzard plunged much of Connecticut into darkness, the state’s governor, Dannel Malloy, sought new strategies for powering his state. Microgrids were one answer. Daniel C. Esty, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, discusses the effort.

ENERGYBIZ: Is Connecticut on the cutting edge of promoting microgrids in the United States?

Esty: We certainly know we’re on the cutting edge of power outages, having had five severe outages since Gov. Malloy took office just over two years ago. What we are trying to do with the microgrids and the commitment to distributed generation is to soften the blow when the power is out. We want to make sure that some critical facilities remain up when the grid is down. So, part of our microgrid strategy aims at providing a mechanism at facilities like hospitals, sewage treatment plants and prisons where the power must stay on. The second element of the strategy centers on trying to provide core services to the public and being able to give some downtown areas the  ability to stay up and be island-able during a storm. We’re hoping to keep police and fire stations, a place to charge cellphones, perhaps a school as a warming center, a grocery store, a gas station, a bank and a pharmacy in some number of communities, in a place supported by distributed generation and that could remain up and running, providing those essential services while the grid is down.

ENERGYBIZ: There are two phases. The first is $15 million and the governor’s asking the legislature for $30 million over the next two years. What will that entail?

Esty: The initial phase of $45 million is going to leverage, but not fully pay for, 10 to 12 pilot microgrids. In each case, we are partnering with either a community or a number of entities within communities that will be putting up a good bit of the money. The state money is really to support the engineering and design work.

ENERGYBIZ:  Do you see new players and investors becoming engaged? Are utilities interested?

Esty: We don’t say who should play and who shouldn’t. And we’re encouraging the broadest array of energy actors to jump into the Connecticut marketplace.

ENERGYBIZ: What will the future look like?

Esty: We believe that there will be more distributed generation. We believe that the electricity system of the future will become a mixture of large, grid-scale power plants and smaller-scale distributed generation that is increasingly cost-effective as new technologies evolve. And as of today, we anticipate that there is a premium to be paid for these smaller-scale distributed generation structures, but we see that premium as being, in effect, an insurance policy against the pain and suffering that occurs when there is no power for days on end if the grid goes down and there are no microgrids.

ENERGYBIZ: Do you think the state of Connecticut is equipped to pursue its own energy policy?

Esty: One of the great things about our country is that there are opportunities for states to step out in front of the pack and to lead on various aspects of policy. If it works out well, other states will follow. 

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Comments

CT's Microgrid Program Small and Imported Hydro Negates Effects

Dear Editor,

This past four days Connecticut has had yet another problem where due to a railaway maintenance problems tens of thousands of commuters cannot get from CT to NY.  The train problem of the past days is not really a "train problem" per se but, rather, another electrical reliability problem . The problem as detailed in the press says:

                "The problem stemmed from a 138-kilovolt Con Edison feeder line that supplies electricity to overhead wires that power the New Haven Line trains, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.Malloy said the outage happened when a feeder line in Mount Vernon, N.Y. was taken out of service for repair work that had been going on for months. The feeder line that remained in service then failed, he said. The line was super-heated, he said, so workers couldn't immediately pinpoint the problem."

After several days now we have not received much more in any way of detail. But I would say, at first glance, that a good deal of the problem may be due to the growing complexity of the electric grid wherein one of those lines which offered the safety of redundancy, was taken out of service without some provision for a backup to it. I am sure the two-state control adds another layer of complexity as well but I would like to provide you some information which may be of interest to insure this might not happen again:

1) There was some earlier discussion several years back where I believe it was noted that at one time, MetroNorth (or its predecessor, the New Haven Railroad) had its own dedicated electricity source.  Maybe we ought to re-investigate this as the benefit-cost figures may look rosier after a few weeks of this outage. We might consider funding, with New York, as a Minigrid (larger than a microgrid) of sorts to once use dedicated power with the grid for back up.

2) The CT Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) did a 2007 detailed study entitled A study of the Feasibility of Using Fuel Cells to Generate Power for the New Haven Rail Line. While I DO NOT advise using all fuel cells for this endeavor (you need diversity), the economic development aspects could be substantial if we do not choose a California firm to supply the fuel cells as we largely did in the Low Emissions REC program. I do think the CASE study basic idea has some merit and ought to be investigated further.

3) This event spotlights the lack of resilience and security that  could also be used for other purposes during non-peak periods or during weather or other emergencies. Indeed, this little outage is representative of one more frailty of our system and yet another CT task force will probably be convened to look at it in isolation from the other energy vulnerabilities just as the other events have been pretty much in isolation (Two Storms) and not conducted with a more holistic, all-hazards approach. I also suggest we make the utilities full partners in any such endeavor and help them form new business models based on grid decentralization and, via decoupling, insure they earn a respectable rate of return (but only if they don't ship IT jobs to India as another side condition--connect those dots).

4) Gordon Van Welie of ISO-NE and myself have much we disagree on but one point that we accidentally found out that we share is thinking that society (not ratepayers in this case) will only spend so much in the aggregate for its energy. 

CT DEEP supports that we pay, as a society, to spend an immense amount of money for a transmission line to Canada that will further centralize the grid and makes us more vulnerable. This is the antithesis of the new microgrid program.  In 1976, in one of his earliest works Amory Lovins said the two paths (centralized vs. decentralized) were mutually exclusive and oddly enough, he  worked with CT DEEP on the state's Comprehensive Energy Strategy. Dr.Peter Fox-Penner has consulted on the CT Integrated Resource Plan and both seem to actually agree more with what I suggest on decentralization than with the actual direction being taken by DEEP that advocates the use of Candian hydro. A far more robust microgrid program ought to be lauded but the very modest amounts thus far have allowed very few program entrants to benefit. These priorities ought to be reversed.  


Best Regards,

Joel N. Gordes