Nine Connecticut communities will receive $17 million in state loans and grants to restore toxic or abandoned former commercial and industrial sites to productive reuse.

The state’s Department of Economic & Community Development announced December 2 this opening round of brownfields funding paves way for a second round, for which the agency says it is now accepting applications. That deadline is February 3.

DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith said the $12.95 million in loans and $4.6 million in grants are meant for commercial and industrial redevelopment; affordable housing; and mixed-use developments with hotel, residential and retail space.

Bridgeport received $725,000 in a pair of grants, including $450,000 to clean up for 148 & 220 Waterview Avenue.

Waterbury got two grants totaling $600,000 for environmental investigation and cleanup of 44 Chapel Street and the Mill Street/South Main/River Street quadrant.

Middletown received a $500,000 grant to help with the purchase and redevelopment of property for the Community Health Center at 645 Main Street.

 CHESHIRE — A company that makes metal parts for the aerospace industry has agreed to pay a penalty of $105,240 to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the manufacturer violated federal Clean Air Act requirements meant to prevent chemical releases as well as federal community right-to-know laws.

According to EPA, Consolidated Industries Inc. violated the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act by failing to file chemical reporting forms for chromium and nickel in 2007 and 2008.

EPA also alleged that the company failed to put in place a required Risk Management Plan for hydrofluoric acid stored at the facility, in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. An accidental release of hydrofluoric acid could have severe consequences, due to its high toxicity and ability to travel significant distances downwind as a dense vapor. The complaint stemmed from an April 2010 inspection of the facility as well as follow-up letters seeking additional information.

Consolidated Industries cooperated with EPA throughout its investigation, and has since filed the required chemical reporting forms and certified that it is in compliance with community right-to-know reporting requirements. The facility also has reported to EPA that it stopped using hydrofluoric acid in concentrations that make it subject to the Risk Management Plan requirement.  

 Embattled Connecticut Light & Power incurred nearly $163 million in cleanup and capital costs in the October 29 freak snowstorm, and the costs were "prudent," according to a document filed December 7 by CL&P's parent company, Hartford-based Northeast Utilities.

Utility companies are allowed to include prudent costs in customers' rates, so the $163 million could eventually end up in electric bills if state regulators agree with NU's assessment. But that is unlikely happen any time soon.

NU said last month the projected cleanup cost of Tropical Storm Irene would be about $92 million. Combined the two storms would costs ratepayers $255 million if NU seeks recovery of that amount in rates, and if regulators agree the costs were prudent.

An NU spokesperson said company executives have "discussed 2014" as a possible target for a rate case, which would include the storm costs.

Separately, NU established a $30 million fund to reimburse about 200,000 eligible CL&P customers who were without power after the October storm. That money, about $18 million, or 10 cents a share after taxes, will not be paid by customers, NU said in the document filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.

 Every community in Connecticut would have a select region safeguarded against power outages and containing shelters, public safety, groceries and other crucial services under a strategy outlined December 7 by the state's top environmental official.

In his first testimony on the recent storms that caused record-setting outages, Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty also said officials should explore tougher design and construction requirements, rules to keep more line repair crews in-state, and utility performance guidelines — with penalties linked to executive pay.

Recalling the public scramble to secure basic services after both the October 29 snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene in late August, Esty asked Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Two Storm Panel to envision "micro-grids" in each city and town where not only police stations and hospitals would have power, but sufficient shelters, grocery stores and gasoline stations to meet local needs.

More than 600,000 Connecticut businesses and residences lost power following Irene, which hit August 27-28, and more than 800,000 lost service after the October storm. The latter storm in particular led to prolonged gasoline lines in the days immediately afterward as many motorists had to travel beyond their own communities to find a station with electrical service.

"We're talking about a mission-critical site with a local source of power that would not go down" in the face of large-scale outages, Esty said.

These "mission critical" centers could be developed over time through several complementary policy changes.

The commissioner endorsed an expansion of tree-trimming efforts near power lines — an approach that has drawn near-universal support.

But Esty said that while this would protect Connecticut's electric grid as a whole, the state also should investigate moving select sections of its 17,000 miles of power lines underground.

This often has been criticized as too expensive, Esty said, citing "ballpark cost [estimates] of $1 billion per mile." But select burying of overhead line sections, as they wear out, might be a cost Connecticut ratepayers could bear if spread out over 20 or 30 years. He added that these line improvements could be focused on strategic locations in each community's "mission-critical" neighborhood.

"Think of that addition as an insurance premium against storm damage" and loss of services, Esty said. "This would reduce that burden in a way that would be measurable."



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 FAIRFIELD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined Fairfield First Selectman Michael C. Tetreau and other dignitaries December 2 to mark the opening of the new Fairfield Metro railroad station. The $90 million station, which opened for commuter service December 5, also includes 1,400 parking spaces.

Located midway between the Fairfield and Bridgeport stations, Fairfield Metro was built by the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and the town of Fairfield. The DOT owns the entire station facility — the town’s third Metro-North station, including Southport station — while the station and parking lot will be operated and maintained by Fusco Management Co. Connecticut train service is provided by Metro-North under contract to the DOT.

“This project will be an enormous advantage for Connecticut commuters — and state and local leaders should be congratulated for their efforts here,” said Malloy. “I have been clear that we need to continue to invest in our transit infrastructure — it is one way we strengthen our economy and improve regional competitiveness.  This new station demonstrates the power of partnerships to benefit the town and the state.”

DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker noted that Fairfield Metro is fully ADA accessible with elevators on each platform. In addition, the station has two high-level platforms with full-length canopies that can accommodate 12 rail cars each.  Other station amenities include ticket vending machines, benches, shelters and a fully enclosed pedestrian overpass for easy passage between platforms. Recycling centers also are available on the platforms.

 Beginning in January, bus service to and from the station will be provided by Greater Bridgeport Transit. Taxi service will be available at the station, which is located at 61 Constant Comment Way.

 The New Haven Line, the busiest single rail line in the U.S., carried 37.3 million people in 2010, a 2.8-percent increase over the previous year.

 NEW HAVEN — In what it calls an effort to provide better and faster communications, the United Illuminating Co. (UI) has enhanced its social media presence. Customers, investors, stakeholders and members of the media can follow the company on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to learn the latest news from UI and get energy efficiency tips, storm center information, timetables for power outages and service restoration, financial filings by parent company UIL Holdings as well as updates on products and services, payment assistance programs, EnergyStar equipment recommendations, rebate offers and holiday closing reminders.

Customers can visit and click on the distinctive social media icons on the company’s home page; search Facebook for UIL Holdings Corp.; follow @UnitedIllum on Twitter for storm-related updates, alerts and safety tips; and follow @UILHoldings for information about the corporation and all its subsidiaries. New videos about electric, gas and energy-related topics are on YouTube channel

The electric company asks that customers still use traditional customer care phone numbers to report outages or other issues.

 Survey: Customer satisfaction plunges on New Haven line


NEW HAVEN — Riders of Metro-North’s New Haven line are decidedly less happy with their train service this past year than in recent years.

An annual customer satisfaction survey conducted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) showed that customer satisfaction across all train lines (New Haven as well as the Harlem and Hudson lines) was down to 89 percent from 93 percent last year.

But it was the New Haven line’s performance that took the most precipitous tumble, dropping seven percentage points, from 88 percent to 81 percent.

Riders on the New Haven Line have taken issue with the condition of aging rail cars, availability of seats (just 61 percent satisfied), and cleanliness of the restrooms (37 percent satisfied) on board. Sixty-nine percent were satisfied with on-board temperatures during the winter and summer.

Sixty-five percent of customers felt the train service was a good value for the money; down from 69 percent last year.

By comparison, there was 96 percent satisfaction among Harlem Line riders, and 94 percent satisfaction among riders of the Hudson Line, which have newer rail cars and equipment.

Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said delays in manufacturing the new M-8 rail cars was expected to provoke the wrath of riders, as well as the less reliable older cars currently on the line, more than half of which were knocked out of service during last year’s harsh winter storms.

Currently just 32 of the 405 M-8 coaches on order have entered service, covering about 30 runs each weekday, and fewer on weekends.

Riders also voiced concerns for better onboard announcements, and improved electronic communication about last-minute service changes or updates. Seventy-one percent of riders on the East-of-Hudson train lines were satisfied with communication during service breakdowns. The railroad is already looking into improvements after a train breakdown between Southport and Greens Farms in July left more than 200 people stranded on the train in 100-degree temperatures for more than an hour with no power or air conditioning.

Riders were 78 percent satisfied with on-time performance, down from 85 percent last year, and behind the 96 percent approval from Harlem and Hudson line riders.

The 2008 customer satisfaction survey showed New Haven line riders were overall 90-percent satisfied with the service.

 Retailer installing PV array on Elm City store


NEW HAVEN –– Ikea is increasing its solar footprint in the U.S., and New Haven is among its three latest three stores slated to install solar electric panels.

The Swedish retailer recently announced plans to put a 940.8 kW system on the roof of 450 Sargent Drive, with 3,920 photovoltaic (PV) panels producing 1,099,800 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity a year. The installation is expected to save 846 tons of C02, or the equivalent of reducing emissions from 149 cars or powering 92 homes.

Ikea’s Draper, Ut. store will get a 1,1013 kW system with 4,311 panels generating 1,487,080 kWh per year, and the Portland, Ore. store will have a 497.3 kW system, with 2,072 panels generating 568,900 kWh annually.

Ikea will own and operate the solar arrays in each location.

Gehrlicher Solar USA was hired for the New Haven installation, which (like the others) is scheduled for completion in spring 2012, according to Ikea. Part of Gehrlicher AG, the company is one of the world’s largest independent PV project developers and system integrators.

REC Solar will be installing panels on the other two stores.

These three projects raise the number of solar-powered Ikea stores in America to 23, or more than half of its 38 US stores.

Founded in 1943, Ikea has more than 320 stores in 39 countries.

“This initiative, part of the company’s never-ending list of sustainable activities, will lower the carbon intensity of the electric grid and the U.S. carbon footprint of Ikea,” said Mike Ward, Ikea U.S. president, in a statement.

“We are always looking for opportunities to expand our sustainability commitment and are very excited about furthering this commitment by installing solar panels on our building,” said Gail Franc, store manager of Ikea New Haven. “This opportunity will reduce our carbon footprint, improve our environment and contribute to our store’s vision for creating ‘a better everyday life for the many.’’’

Ikea regularly evaluates its locations for energy conservation opportunities. US efforts include recycling waste material, incorporating environmental measures into building construction such as energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems and water saving restrooms. Nine Western stores recently added electric vehicle charging stations.