NORWALK, Conn. – Questions were plentiful but answers regarding the future of Manresa Island were few during an informational meeting held Wednesday at Norwalk Police headquarters.
Up to 80 people attended the meeting called by state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and Mayor Harry Rilling, many of them peppering NRG officials with questions in a discussion that Duff called a “good starter” of the transition to a possible new use for the property after the oil-driven power plant has been completely shut down.
Facts emerged: of the 124 acres owned by NRG, about 45 acres are coal ash left by the previous owner. The land is zoned residential and is in a flood zone. No one really knows how much pollution there may be. The plant has only been operational 10 to 15 days a year in recent times.
The power plant was built in 1955; NRG Energy Inc. bought it from Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) in 1999, Duff said. Its closure is a result of cheap gas prices, driven by the development of shale gas, Duff said. The use of the property has been industrial for 60 years, Duff said.
“You look at that building and think that’s an industrial zone and that’s the kind of use that can go there,” Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene said. “In fact, because of the utility they’re exempt from zoning. So the fact that they’re there has nothing to do with is it allowed by zoning or is it not, except that the city has a lot of input.”
NRG could sell it, repower it or develop it, NRG Vice President for Government Affairs Raymond Long said. Reactivating the plant, described as being “99.9 percent shut down” is a possibility, but it would be tough, as the company is surrendering its permits in the process of shutting it down.
“We never want to take it off the table because energy markets are so dynamic. Currently, in this environment, it’s really challenging,” said Drew Warshaw, NRG’s senior director of renewable development-East.
Warshaw said the obvious alternative would be to run a plant there with gas, but the company is open to solar energy and other things.
Getting the gas to the plant is the issue, Duff said. The most likely option would be to “run it off the Iroquois Line that’s in Milford, run it west.” A new plant would probably be about a third of the size of the existing plant, he said.
Warshaw didn’t know how long it would take to come up with answers.
“Certainly this is not an end-of-next-year-type of time frame. We want to understand this as soon as possible, but I don’t have an exact time frame of when I’m going to know.”
Warshaw said demolishing the plant would cost millions. Duff said he had read other plants have cost $60 to $70 million to demolish.
Charlie Taney, chairman of the Manresa Neighborhood Association, pressed for a timeline, saying he has read of decommissioned plants on the East Coast sitting idle for 10 to 15 years.
“Nobody wants to see this plant sit idle for 10 to 15 years, but we also want to make sure whatever we are doing is environmentally correct and friendly, that we are not putting neighborhoods or neighbors at risk by rushing to a decision to dismantle something,” Duff said.
Letting the plant sit there would cost money, Warshaw said.
“It costs the owner money to keep that structure in a state of good repairs. … That is not a small number. We are highly incented to deal with the demolitions if we stay on as the owner.”
NRG pays more than $600,000 in property taxes, Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis said in response to a question from Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak. If the land became parkland, the city would lose that revenue, officials said.
Whatever decision is made would have to factor in the loss of revenue, Duff said.
The plant is “old and inefficient,” Duff said. NRG was being paid to get it open so that it could provide energy when needed, when the demand was up due to hot or cold weather. Because of the expense of keeping the plant open, shutting it down actually lowers electric bills, Duff said.
Warshaw said NRG will continually monitor the plant as long as it owns it. It’s secure now, he said, with 24-hour security.
The cost of remediation cannot be estimated until a potential use is determined for the site, as the requirements for remediation vary according to what the property will be used for, he said. Residential use would require the most remediation.
“If they want to redevelop the property, I think this is a great opportunity,” Greene said. “It’s great to have this meeting now where the city through the state and through NRG can help plan what the city sees as the best use for that site. When you think about it, what an opportunity, a large 100-plus-acre site on the waterfront in Fairfield County and the neighborhood obviously interested in being involved in what goes there now.”
If it stays a utility usage the city would have no say other than restricting how far north on the island NRG would go, he said.
“I don’t want to be vague but it is vague – you get to have a lot of input in where they go next,” he said. “We can all work together on planning that. This is that first stage. This is why this meeting is important. First you start out with all of dreams about what you’s like want there, because of certain restrictions environmentally and otherwise, those things may or may not happen. But who knows?”
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