Northwest CT air quality group wary about Cricket Valley's conversion plans

Photo of Kendra Baker

KENT — Members of the Western Connecticut Clean Air Action are wary about Cricket Valley Energy Center’s recently announced plans to switch its fuel source from natural gas to hydrogen.

The natural gas-powered facility in Dover Plains, N.Y. — which provoked the ire of those living just over the border in northwestern Connecticut — is teaming up with General Electric to gradually increase hydrogen utilization at the plant and eventually convert to what it’s described as “100 percent hydrogen-fueled.”

Kent resident Mike Benjamin said it sounds like a “promising partnership,” but he and other WCCAA members are awaiting further details on the conversion plans.

“The use of hydrogen fuel is not necessarily environmentally benign,” he said. “Hydrogen is an energy storage technology — not an energy source — because a different energy source is needed to make hydrogen fuel.”

The Cricket Valley Energy Center has been at the center of controversy longer than it’s been in operation.

Proposed in 2009 and approved in 2012, construction on the plant commenced in the summer of 2017 and was met with opposition, including from WCCAA — a group of northwestern Connecticut residents dedicated to protecting air quality that formed specifically to fight the plant.

Despite the efforts of the organization and others with environmental and health concerns to prevent the natural gas-fueled facility from coming online, the plant entered operation last year.

Benjamin said not much, if anything, would change in terms of environmental impact if Cricket Valley uses natural gas to produce hydrogen fuel — but there could be improvement if an environment-friendly source is used instead.

“If the hydrogen fuel will be produced using low-carbon energy sources such as wind and solar, the conversion to hydrogen fuel could be environmentally beneficial,” he said.

Cricket Valley plans to start with a several-week test of a hydrogen-natural gas blend in one of the plant’s turbines beginning late next year in order to prepare for its fuel source transition and “demonstrate the feasibility of converting the natural gas-fueled facility to utilize green hydrogen,” the company announced earlier this month.

As they await more information about Cricket Valley’s plans, Benjamin said he and other WCCAA members continue to monitor air quality in the region to assess the plants’ environmental impact.

In partnership with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and University of Connecticut, WCCAA has been monitoring air at several sites, including Kent School, which is just five miles from the plant.