A $1.2 million state grant to build a microgrid to power critical town facilities during times of emergency was approved Monday by the Representative Town Meeting, although some questioned the wisdom of spending so much money on equipment that would be installed along the edge of flood zones.
The microgrid would provide electrical power when United Illuminating service is disrupted to police and fire headquarters on Reef Road and the Operation Hope homeless shelter, next door to the police headquarters on Nichols Street. The system would function through a combination of diesel generators, photovoltaic systems and fuel cells.
"I'm a bit concerned about pouring more money into two structures on the outskirts of a flood zone, that eventually will be fully in that zone," David Becker, R-1, said. Flooding from Superstorm Sandy "came within blocks of having water pouring in."
The Sandy flooding stopped just south of Oldfield and Old Post roads.
Becker suggested the town should start looking at longer-term plans for police and fire headquarters.
But First Selectman Michael Tetreau said when the town looks at "hardening" its infrastructure, flooding from Long Island Sound is not the only concern. "We're dealing with the whole town," Tetreau said.
Other scenarios, he said, include the failure of dams at Samp Mortar or Lake Mohegan, or even the reservoirs in Easton.
In addition, Tetreau said, the town has also worked with Fairfield University to set up a backup emegency communications center at its North Benson Road campus.
"I like the idea of state funds for these projects," said Ed Bateson, R-3. "I am questioning the wisdom; we already have backup systems. They seemed to work fine in Sandy."
Bateson also said the town should retain the existing generator at police headquarters once the microgrid is established and instead put it at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, which serves as an evacuation center.
"It we have no power in town for 30 days, the police aren't going to do us any good," Bateson said.
Tetreau said there is a generator at FLHS for that purpose, adding that it is being rewired to provide power to both the cafeteria and the gym. During Sandy, he said, officials discovered it powered only the cafeteria.
He said the current police generator operates on diesel fuel and is capable of operating for only a few days on that supply, and the state grant requires at 30-day fuel supply. The new generator will run on natural gas.
The town will have to provide about $100,000 toward the microgrid project, which will be taken from the budget's contingency account.
In other business, the RTM also approved a $15,000 grant from UI for a wireless energy management system for Sullivan-Independence Hall, and took no action on several contracts for local solar energy projects at municipal facilities, including at Operation Hope, the Postol Recreation Center and the public works garage. The RTM members wanted more information on the contracts before voting.