Solar power outlook brightens with vehicle charging stations set for RR depot
Thousands of Westport commuters rely on the electrical grid to power the trains that take them to work from the Saugatuck Railroad Station each day. Soon, they will be able to take advantage of a brighter source to get them to and from the station.
By the end of the year, the town is set to activate its first solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations at the Saugatuck station. A 27-kilowatt solar-panel solar array on the roof of the rail depot's eastbound terminal will feed electricity to the charging stations.
To advance the project, the Board of Selectmen approved Wednesday an installation and maintenance contract for the solar-panel system.
"I think it really puts Westport on the forefront of solar technology innovations and alternative energy," Building Official Steve Smith said. "It will be a blueprint for other communities."
The Stratford-based energy-solutions firm Encon will install the solar array. ECI Energy, which has the same owners as Encon, will run and maintain the solar-panel installation and cover its costs. The project will not require town funding. ECI will bill the town for the electricity the solar panels produce -- a rate expected to cost 30 percent less than if the town bought that power from a major utility.
The Saugatuck station's EV charging center is scheduled to open by the end of this year, according to Smith. It will open with four charging stations -- two for train station parking permit-holders and two for daily users. Solar power at the Saugatuck station could eventually service up to 20 charging stations, Smith added.
"It's a very significant project," said Glenn Cucinell, Encon's solar division manager. "We're able to not only put in solar to save the town money, but we're also going to incorporate charging stations for electric cars which is perfect for a transportation hub like the town of Westport."
Construction of the railroad station's solar array is scheduled to begin within the next month, Cucinell added. The EV hub at the station will comprise the first solar-powered charging station for vehicles along Metro-North's New Haven line.
During the last 18 months, several electric vehicle charging facilities have switched on in Westport, as the town has emerged as a leader in renewable energy use in Fairfield County. In July 2011, the town's first EV charging center opened at a commercial building at 495 Post Road East. A month later, the town's first public charging station debuted in a Saugatuck Railroad Station parking lot next to Luciano Park.
Local EV dealers also hope to tap into the town's enthusiasm for solar energy.
"What we're trying to do is to be a good influence in the community to help it go green," Kirby said. "It gives us exposure as a dealership that we're here and supporting the green environment. It's a really a win-win for both sides."
Charging sessions will be free during the first six months after the EV stations are activated. After that period, the town may charge a nominal fee to cover the cost of electricity.
The solar array will also provide electricity for tenant businesses at the eastbound terminal and its platform lights.
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