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360 State’s Green Power To Be Unleashed
by Thomas MacMillan | Aug 15, 2013 12:38 pm
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Environment, Housing, Downtown
Thanks to a freshly signed law, 360 State may finally crank its world-class fuel cell up to its fullest green-energy potential—as soon as state regulators write some new regulations.
When 360 State opened in the summer of 2010, the mixed-use tower at the corner of State and Chapel streets contained the world’s largest clean energy generator in an apartment building. In the three years since then, the fuel cell has operated at only a fraction of its full power.
The 400-kilowatt fuel cell was intended to power the building’s 500 apartments, but has been powering only the building’s hallways and common areas. That’s because the state has forbidden 360 State from “submetering,” charging tenants individually for the electricity they use from the building’s fuel cell.
For three years, 360 State has fought to gain permission to submeter. Last month, Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill that legalizes the practice in buildings that generate their own electricity—buildings like 360 State.
360 State can’t start submetering, however, until the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) creates an application and approval process, as the law directs it to do.
“That’s what we’re hoping will go very quickly,” said Paul McCary, attorney for 360 State. “They’re starting that process now.”
Dennis Schain, spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said it’s unknown when PURA will create the new regulations. “It’s hard to put a definite date on it,” he said. “They recognize it’s an issue of great concern and will move it forward as soon as possible.”
“It will be a big improvement,” McCary said. “It will enable the building to use the fuel cell to the meet the needs of the tenants as well as the common load.”
Beyond just 360 State, McCary said, the bill is “frankly good news for a lot of other buildings in Connecticut that are master metered”—that is, buildings that have only one electric meter for many apartments.
That was the case in another building in town that McCary represents: 900 Chapel St. He said the owners of that building have been in a years-long legal battle over submetering with the state.
When the building was converted from commercial to residential use, putting in utility meters for each apartment would have been too expensive, he said. The building owners put in submeters instead, seven years ago. The owners have been “in litigation with PURA for four or five of those years,” McCary said.
Submetering encourages tenants to conserve electricity, McCary said. In master-metered apartment buildings, tenants pay electricity bills as a flat-fee part of their rent, which encourages waste. When tenants aren’t accountable for the electricity they use, they use 20 percent more on average, McCary said.
It can become “a fairness issue,” McCary said. “If you’re never home and only use one light bulb and I’m always home and use four computers and three TVs” you’ll end up paying for my electricity.
Jessie Stratton, DEEP’s directory of policy, said the submetering bill is intended to tackle this unfairness and to encourage people to use less electricity.
The “concern” that comes with submetering, she said, is that buildings that submeter “are not considered electric companies,” they’re “not required to do everything electric companies are required to do.” The state has a duty to see that tenants using electricity through a submeter are shielded by the same consumer protections that cover power company customers, she said. Meters need to be checked regularly to ensure accuracy, for instance, Stratton said.
That’s why PURA needs to develop regulations, Stratton said.
Schain said PURA has “opened a docket” on submetering is in forming a working group to come up with regulations that will be presented to the PURA board of commissioners.
Bruce Becker, who designed and built 360 State, declined to comment for this story. Click here to read testimony he gave on the submetering bill in March.
The new law may have another effect on 360 State, to the tune of $3 million. That’s how much Multi-Employer Property Trust (MEPT)— the union pension fund-backed outfit that owns the building—expected to receive in state incentives for building an energy-efficient tower, according to McCary.
United Illuminating (UI) has refused to release the money until the submetering issue is worked out, McCary said. He said he filed a request Thursday to have the funds released, now that submetering has been legalized by the legislature.
“The funds have been effectively embargoed even though the building followed all the rules,” McCary said.
UI couldn’t be reached for comment.
“It looks like 360 State would be able to apply for that funding once regulations are in place and they’re able to move forward with submetering,” Schain said.
With the new submetering law, the end may be in sight for years of litigation for two downtown New Haven buildings, McCary said. “We think we’ll finally get across the goal line.”
Tags: Paul McCary, fuel cell, 360 State, PURA
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That it has taken this long for the legislation to be proposed and passed is really pitiful. This is a no brainer. And the state delegation was where exactly?
Note to DEEP: Put the working group together this afternoon, have an outline meeting tomorrow and by next Friday, have your rules. It’s not that hard.
I don’t really love this building but they’ve been treated unfairly on this issue. Its completely unacceptable that it took 3 years to allow submetering to occur and is yet another thing indicative of a broken and unwieldy state government.
Seems like with a powerful advocate like Toni Harp in Hartford, this should have been corrected in 2010…not 2013 or 2014.
This is great progress. However, can we have an investigation into whether any of the board members of PURA also sit on the boards of any utilities that would be negatively impacted by such an action. It would seem that there is room for a conflict of interest.
With respect to the wanna-be Draco Malfoy, your comment shows a complete lack of understanding of the legislative process and Senator Harp herself. Senator Harp has been remiss to take complete or full credit for the work she has done and spearheaded in the Senate - unlike the rest of the field. She understands that most things take collaboration and teamwork, not just an individual’s desire to accomplish them. Justin credits himself with dirt bike legislation, though I see dirt bikes continuously. Henry credits himself and himself alone with bringing Gateway to New Haven. Both of those things required massive team efforts against incredible stumbling blocks. I’m happy that Senator Harp does not exhibit this sense of hubris.
Regardless, not every item is or should be a campaign issue. This is a feel good piece that will hopefully result in the near future for lower rents for the tenants. It should result in energy savings and because of the work at 360 State, the same submetering will likely be put in place in other complexes - hopefully helping to save the planet.
Shrugg Off Notes:
So did Toni Harp sponsor this legislation or not? It’s the elephant in the room.
Big Hint: Toni Harp not only didn’t introduce the bill, she couldn’t even be bothered to co-sponsor (as in simply put your name on the list) the legislation. In fact, not one sorry legislator from the New Haven delegation co-sponsored this bill - except for one - Martin Looney. Toni Harp did vote in favor of it once it seems somebody told her to do so.
posted by: Kevin on August 16, 2013 3:08pm
Having worked in this area for many years, actually it is “that hard” to come up with fair rules for submetering. Among the things that need to get ironed out are (1) providing appropriate consumer protections for the tenants (who are not UI customers and thus are not covered by laws governing billing disputes, etc.), (2) defining when their service can be terminated, and (3) setting rates in the absence of actual meter readings.
This does not mean that submetering should not go forward, but it is going to take more than a week to implement.
Section 16-4 of the statutes states “No officer, employee, attorney or agent of any public service company [i.e., a utility], of any certified telecommunications provider or of any electric supplier shall be a member of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority or an employee of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection [the parent agency of PURA].” Section 16-2 has broader conflict of interest provisions for PURA commissioners and DEEP employees.