Tax incentives, investment, and innovation are key

More than 250 facilities managers, chief operations officers, other business professionals, and government officials gathered at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell last month to hear how current and planned energy projects and policies will affect their businesses and their bottom line. New technology was a hot topic, as was the potential for energy independence and the financial, regulatory, and environmental hurdles that stand in the way.

The eleventh annual What's the Deal? business energy conference featured a morning keynote presentation by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), coauthor of the Senate's comprehensive American Power Act, energy independence and climate change legislation that was proposed but ultimately not passed earlier this year (see opposite page). Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Energy, delivered the afternoon keynote address.

Panel discussions throughout the day focused on issues ranging from the high cost of energy transmission and distribution in Connecticut to the state's crumbling energy infrastructure. Developments in wind, hydro, and fuel cell technologies and the implications for commercial enterprise, national security, job creation, and workforce training were also widely discussed.

Energy Innovators Showcase Their Latest Projects

The first morning panel: Energy Projects: was moderated by John Mengacci, undersecretary of Connecticut's Office of Policy and Management. Panel discussants were Steve Molodetz, vice president of business development at HQ Energy Services US, a division of Hydro-Quebec, the world's largest hydrogeneration company; Raymond G. Long, vice president of government affairs for NRG Energy, a Fortune 300 wholesale generator of electricity in Connecticut; David N. Hurwitt, vice president of marketing at Optiwind Corp., designer of the world's first commercial-scale accelerated wind turbine; and Bruce Redman Becker, president of Becker & Becker, architects of the first residential building in Connecticut to gain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum status.

Molodetz led off with a preview of HQ's Northern Pass Transmission Project. A participant-funded venture with "zero impact on transmission rates" and no government or ratepayer subsidies, the project seeks to increase hydro capability throughout the region and "step up energy exports," he said.

Long reiterated the need for reliability and stable pricing in energy. (Connecticut's aging energy infrastructure, he noted, includes fossil steam units that are more than 30 years old.) He also touched on the transmission/generation debate and emphasized fuel prices and regulated charges as major cost drivers in Connecticut over the last decade.

Long gave status updates on NRG's GenConn projects, all of which are either under construction, with 2011 launch dates, or fully online. (The first of its kind in Connecticut, GenConn is a partnership between a merchant generator: NRG: and a public utility: United Illuminating: to build power-generating facilities that meet the state's peaking power demands, as in periods of extreme heat or cold or unexpected outages.)

GenConn projects involve long-term contracts and financing: and that, Long pointed out, is where our legislature and regulatory agencies can be extremely effective. New integrated resource plans, or IRPs, he said, are helping streamline processes and awarding modified cost-of-service projects to competitive private-sector companies.

Hurwitt discussed the current and future potential of distributed wind. On the high end is the industrial wind energy market, which involves onshore and offshore windfarms: but "the pitch point," he said, is the commercial market that includes schools, factories, retail establishments, offices, and distribution centers. In addition to becoming a source of domestic energy generation, wind has a huge and largely untapped global market, he proposes, with four out of five wind turbines currently being sold outside the U.S.

Incentives Make It Happen

Becker's presentation focused primarily on 360 State Street in New Haven, the largest private residential development in Connecticut. The 700,000-square-foot building is a mixed-use project built on 1.61 acres of remediated brownfields adjacent to the State Street train station. By integrating public transit into its design, the structure reduces the area's transportation impact.

Designated a green building by the U.S. Green Building Council, 360 State Street includes smart thermostats, an advanced water and energy monitoring system, Energy Star appliances, a rooftop garden, and a full-scale food co-op, retail office space, a grocery, and a bike shop on the ground floor. Hurwitt describes the building as "a very tight envelope" with an "interesting energy profile," including a natural-gas-fired fuel cell that will produce 90% of the electricity and 100% of the heat required by the building. In addition to eco-friendly living space, the project has created 1,400 construction jobs and will result in 492 permanent jobs.

Worth noting, says Hurwitt, is that the project would not have been possible without such business incentives as the Connecticut Development Authority (CDA) sales tax exemption, the DECD's Housing Trust Fund Program, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Urban Act grants, federal investment tax credits for fuel cells and CHP (combined heat and power generation) systems, and incentives for fuel cell technologies, such as the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund grant.

What's the Deal: the region's premier business energy conference: was sponsored by CBIA and the Connecticut Power & Energy Society. A portion of the proceeds was donated to the nonprofit Operation Fuel, which provides energy assistance to Connecticut residents in need.