The city of Ansonia hopes to become home to an innovative power plant fueled by decomposing food in a partnership with a New York green-energy company by leasing city property to the company for $1 a year.
Ansonia has collaborated with Greenpoint Energy Partners, a Brooklyn-based firm, on a plan to open one of the first anaerobic digestion plants on the East Coast.
Described by Greenpoint as the “largest single-source municipal scale anaerobic digestion project in the country,” the plant may test whether the technology can be profitable while staying subsidy-free.
“We’ve been involved in renewable energy for the past five to six years, mainly solar and wind,” said Chris Timbrell, principal at Greenpoint Energy Partners, a Brooklyn-based firm. “Those technologies became heavily reliant on government subsidies.”
Realizing this, Greenpoint set their sights on anaerobic digestion in an effort to find a more economically viable alternative. Timbrell said the plant was designed to function without the aid of subsidies.
“Anaerobic digestion” refers to the process of using microorganisms in an oxygen-free environment to break down organic matter such as food waste. This decomposition releases biogas, which is harnessed for use as energy. Biogas technology has been called “one of the most useful decentralized sources of energy supply.”
Of the 1,500 anaerobic digestion facilities in the U.S, most don’t make use of the biogas produced. According to the American Biogas Council, which expects significant growth potential for the industry, less than 17 of the facilities harness the biogas as an energy source.
Supporters of the project think it can elevate Ansonia as a clean-energy leader and boost the local economy.
“One area where I have worked with the mayor is trying to create a local economic development competitive advantage to attract business by becoming a ‘green community,'” said Gary Hale, a former state senator, Ansonia native and lobbyist with Halloran & Sage, who advocates for this and other green-energy projects. “The idea is to attract those businesses that want to associate themselves with green energy by becoming a town that actually leads in green energy.”
According to Timbrell, the plant will provide electricity for less than what the city currently pays.
Aside from reduced energy costs, Hale lists “substantial expansion of the city’s private sector tax base,” “dramatic reduction of the city’s carbon footprint” and “Class I renewable energy which, if used in municipal buildings will make Ansonia a regional and, perhaps, national leader in municipal green energy practices” as the major advantages the plant will give Ansonia.
The company is investing the $30 million needed for the project, which will sit on a lot adjacent to the city’s Public Works Department, at a bargain annual rent of $1.
The plant will harness up to 50,000 tons of locally-sourced food waste per year to produce two megawatt-hours of electricity, double the amount currently consumed by the city’s municipal buildings. The electricity would be delivered to Ansonia’s wastewater treatment plant and nearby businesses through underground power lines. Excess energy will be sold to other municipal and commercial entities.
An estimated 15,000 tons of organic matter will be left over once electricity is produced. This compost material will be prepared for commercial, and possibly retail, sale. Several farms and golf courses across the state have already expressed interest in purchasing the compost, according to Timbrell.
For protection against blackouts, Greenpoint will also create a micro-grid capable of sustaining around-the-clock electric power for four weeks.
“With this plan, power is traded locally so when there is a bad storm it gives a better sense of energy security,” said Timbrell.
Local energy production is a major benefit, according to Timbrell, who emphasized that the plant will use local waste to generate local energy, creating local jobs.
“Apart from creating renewable energy, that is really what’s nice to me about this project; it really is a local initiative using local resources to solve a local problem.”
The technology behind the facility was developed by BDI – BioEnergy International AG, an Austria-based firm founded in 1996.
The announcement and details of the plan were made public in January after two years of discussions between Ansonia and Greenpoint. The idea grew out of Ansonia’s quest to reduce their waste stream. Both parties ultimately saw the project as mutually beneficial.
Former Ansonia Alderman Stephen Blume announced his support early on, seeing the plan as an opportunity for the city to save money by purchasing more cost-effective energy.
In December, the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority announced it would allocate $2 million for a pilot program offering a grant, loan or power purchase incentive for anaerobic digestion projects. Funding would “vary based on the specific technology, efficiency and economics of the installation.”
“We did receive an application from Greenpoint Energy Partners,” said David Goldberg, director of government and external relations for CEFIA. “CEFIA is currently evaluating all of the proposals.”
Timbrell said that while the grant would be nice to get, the plant is “not dependent on it.”
While the future of biogas energy production in Connecticut seems promising, business hasn’t been booming for other alternative energy sources. STR Holdings, Inc., an Enfield-based solar energy company, recently announced plans to lay off one-third of their employees. In addition to restructuring costs of $15 to $20 million, the company’s East Windsor location will close.