City Hall Fuel Cell Green-Lighted

It won’t save big money, and it’s as pretty as a shipping container. But it may inform passersby about saving energy. And it enables the city to make an important green statement.

Those were some of the arguments offered by City Engineer Dick Miller as he won final approval for placement of a 400-kilowatt gas- powered fuel cell in Millennium Plaza behind City Hall just off Orange Street.

The unanimous vote by the City Plan Commission means that cell, long in the planning by Giovanni Zinn at the city’s Office of Sustainability, can be delivered in late December and be completely installed by March, if not before.

Its aim in part is to free City Hall and the Hall of Records from receiving, at substantial cost, their heating and cooling from an energy system with which the city contracts at the adjacent Chase CT Financial Center.

In anticipation of the expiration of that contract in 2013, the fuel cell will be installed and go operational as soon as possible, with some of the energy still coming from the neighbors until that contract runs out.

Allan Appel PhotoAt last Wednesday night’s City Plan meeting, City Engineer Miller said the cell will save $500,000 over 10 years in heating and cooling costs. Zinn later put the net savings at $500,000 to $1 million over that time period. It depends in part on energy prices over the next decade.

The cell is being rented from United Technologies.

Although it’s the city government’s first fuel cell, others have been placed in the city, including at 360 State Street and the rebuilt Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy.

There have been other more generous cost-saving estimates proffered . Click here for a story about initial aldermanic approval to put the cell downtown, through which Zinn estimated a savings of $3.3 million over 20 years.

And here for a story on the project’s background, development, and the key feature of the cell: that the heat it gives off is, ironically, harnessed for purposes of cooling.

At that time Zinn said that the cell will provide 60 percent of the heating load and 30 percent of the cooling for City Hall and the Hall of Records, with the energy center next door providing the balance.

Physically, the fuel cell will not be a thing of beauty. It will look a bit like a shipping container and be surrounded by an eight-foot fence, to be constructed on Millennium Plaza in full view of passersby on Orange Street and by government workers in their comings and goings.

City Plan Commission Chairman Ed Mattison said that it appears the fuel cell will not do a lot to enliven Millennium Plaza, which he described as “a bit of a wasteland.”

“Yes, it is,” Miller concurred. He said the cell, which will have some educational messages on it, will not likely turn Millennium Plaza into a new hot spot, socially speaking.

He also agreed that $500,000 over 10 years is not an immense savings.

“And yet to see an energy-efficient system going in, it makes a statement about the city’s commitment to sustainability,” he argued.

Alderman Justin Elicker asked if the fuel cell will make a lot of noise.

No, Miller replied. He said mechanical engineers have assured him only a low hum is expected.

He said he hopes their prophesies prove true; his office in the 200 Orange building is immediately adjacent.

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posted by: NH Resident on November 21, 2011  12:59pm

Seems kind of hypocritical that 360 State is not allowed to use their fuel cell at full capacity, but a block away city hall is installing a shiny new one. And while a fuel cell is sort of “green” it still burns fossil fuels to produce electricity. Were other more environmentally friendly alternatives even looked at? Like solar? If city hall really wants to make a statement on it’s sustainability, they could have done a better job by covering the building with solar panels. They would have been more attractive than a big grey box humming in the courtyard.

posted by: Edgehood on November 21, 2011  1:01pm

A fuel cell for city hall…?? Very nice…!!

If I recall correctly, the city got the original contract to buy power from the ‘Financial Center’ because it would save money vs. using regular power. The fuel cell is cleaner than most of the power on our grid, plus it’s nice to make city hall independent of the other building. Reducing operating costs is always good, even if it’s ‘only’

New Haven’s total payout for utilities must be huge…!! With all of the modern technology today, there are probably some good ways to cut the utility bills at each city building.

posted by: Funky Chicken on November 21, 2011  1:10pm

To the editor:

It is stated in the story: “Although it’s the city government’s first fuel cell, others have been placed in the city, including at 360 State Street and the rebuilt Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy.”

Is the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy as city owned property/structure?

[Editor: Thanks for pointing that out. We were falling into the trap of saying that because board of education, say, or housing authorities, have some technically separate legal standing, they don’t count as “city government.”]

posted by: Noteworthy on November 21, 2011  1:16pm

There is a world of difference between $500K over 10 years, and $3.3 million over 20. There is a pattern and practice of financial chicanery when it comes to these projections upon which these projects are premised. From the tax revenue at 360 State; the subsidy for Winstanley and the development agreement which has yet to be released, to this childish finger in the air method of projecting cost/savings - this is not excellence or expertise. This is the best we can do?

How are the other city hall departments in charge of next year’s budget supposed to project utility costs? Is the $500K net or gross? And by the way, is this not the same $5 million project Miller came running in with several years ago at the last minute? It was never done? Geez…

posted by: Stephen Harris on November 21, 2011  2:02pm

Congratulations Giovanni! That didn’t take too long did it ;-)

Allan, your photo is crooked.

posted by: Funky Chicken on November 21, 2011  2:13pm

To the Editor:

Point taken but I still pay the taxes! ;)



posted by: Curious on November 21, 2011  4:23pm

Why not put in a bunch of planters around the thing, or plant vines on the back and sides of the fencing, to green the area up a bit?  Doesn’t take a genius to think of that.

Also, while this is nice, I would rather have MORE POLICE.

posted by: Waste on November 21, 2011  6:55pm

Another waste of tax payers money.

posted by: Ora on November 23, 2011  9:54pm

Depending on where the city got this monster cell and what type it is and (important to know) the life span of this cell. It can be short lived to the tune of 5 years. If that were to be the case of its life span, forget the money you are saving, you won’t! I will not poo poo this because it is a step in the right direction, but I sure hope it was thought out carefully and purchased with all these possible glitches in mind. If not, well more money out the window.