Published April 22. 2013 11:00AM Updated April 22. 2013 12:02PM
Hartford — Choosing Earth Day to make the announcement, state Rep. Timothy Bowles officially formed the Southeastern Connecticut Clean Energy Task Force Monday to study the possible creation of a clean energy research and generation center at the former Norwich Hospital property.
Bowles, D-Preston, readily admitted it is his “bias” as a Preston state legislator, selectman and resident for building the center at the former Norwich Hospital property, but said the task force would consider other locations within the region.
Bowles presented a map of the former hospital property showing possible locations for various facilities. The main campus that runs along the Thames River could house a research, educational and vocational training complex on the 50-acre Parcel A and a renewable light manufacturing cluster on the 70.56-acre Parcel B.
A wind farm was placed atop a ridge line at the northern end of the property away from the main campus. A “green municipal public utility” was placed at the southern end of the hospital property on the map.
Other possible locations in the region were not identified Monday, but the task force’s goal will be restricted to the southeastern region, Bowles said at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building. He said the downsizing of Pfizer Inc. and the economic distresses faced by the region’s two casinos show the need for new high-tech jobs in the region.
The task force would not seek funding from the state at this point, Bowles said. Bowles will serve as chairman and said the first meeting will be held in May, possibly at the Mohegan Tribal offices directly across the river to be followed by a tour of the hospital campus.
Bowles hopes the group will be ready to make recommendations by fall. He envisioned a public-private partnership to launch the clean energy technology center, but said the group would concentrate first on seeking private financing before seeking state funding.
He named 11 members to the group Monday in additional to himself and hopes to add one more.
John Bilda, general manager of Norwich Public Utilities, said although the goal is to create the energy center in Preston — outside NPU’s electricity franchise — he looks forward to participating on the task force.
“I’m happy to participate on the task force in a way that makes sense for the people of Norwich and the people of Preston,” Bilda said. “That property is well suited for a lot of things to occur, at least in terms of the topography and location. I’m pretty confident there will be some way that makes sense for Norwich and Preston.”
Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent, also named a member of the task force, said the clean energy center proposal is compatible with the agency’s master plan of development for the hospital property. Nugent said one of the early goals announced when PRA was formed four years ago was to incorporate clean energy technology into future development.
The PRA is in the process of cleaning up the 393-acre property through state and federal grants and loans matched by local dollars. Thus far 22 of the 58 buildings have been demolished and the agency received state and town voter approval for a $4 million loan program to tackle much of the rest of the campus demolition.
The decaying buildings and ground contamination have hindered the prospects of attracting developers to the property.
State Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, said he was excited by the invitation to join the task force. Linares said he created his company, Greenskies, five years ago in his basement. Now, the commercial solar energy company based in Middletown has 100 employees and has installed solar systems in more than 700 homes generating 5 megawatts of electricity.
He said clean energy technology offers “good, solid jobs, engineering jobs” for the region.