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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