By Anthony Branciforte
SOUTH WINDSOR — The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA, has ruled in favor of South Windsor in an ongoing dispute that began early last year between the town and Eversource.
The agency ruled last week that Eversource must accept a modified power purchasing agreement, or PPA, that it has with the town.
Approved in 2013, the PPA was originally between Eversource and CTS Energy, a subsidiary of developer dck North America, but CTS Energy transferred the agreement to South Windsor last year.
The PPA hinges on the development of a 5-megawatt fuel cell and film studio project in town, but Town Manager Matthew Galligan said CTS Energy gave up the deal after deciding against developing a studio.
The agreement states that either party involved must consent to a transfer by the opposite party under reasonable circumstances, and although Eversource disputed the transfer on the grounds the town was not capable of handling such a project, PURA ultimately disagreed.
Eversource then turned its focus to amendments South Windsor made to the PPA, including pricing changes and the introduction of language suggesting the development of a movie studio is still planned but no longer an absolute requirement to fulfill the agreement.
Although the Office of Consumer Council and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also filed motions with PURA against South Windsor, PURA ruled that the amended agreement “is in the long-term interest of ratepayers, especially given the fact that the new revised PPA will contain a substantially lower base energy price.”
Documents filed with PURA show that heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning manufacturer Mestek Inc. is a major financial backer of the fuel cell project, which is now planned for the company’s property at 515 John Fitch Blvd. (Route 5). Mestek once ran a facility on the property, but it was closed as a result of the 2008 financial crisis and recession.
The documents also show that studio developer Pacifica Ventures has received a two-year, $14 million loan commitment from Los Angeles-based loan agency West Bay Capital LLC for that portion of the project.
Land’s future unclear
This change leaves the future of the project’s originally proposed site — a 23-acre parcel of dck-owned land along Chapel Road, John Fitch Boulevard, and Route 30 — unclear.
That piece of land has a long, controversial history in town, beginning eight years ago when the movie studio was first pitched.
Dck’s involvement began as the construction manager for the project under Connecticut Studios, the original developer, but Connecticut Studios was unable to begin development even after the agreement’s deadline was extended repeatedly.
Initially, the movie studio development was to be accompanied by a number of other projects including a hotel, a visitor center, retail facilities, and more.
Dck eventually took control of the property in 2014 after Connecticut Studios, which owed dck $2 million, went bankrupt.
This also led to the discovery that the deed to the land had ended up in dck’s hands, prompting public criticism of the town, but Galligan has said a reverter clause in the development agreement gives South Windsor the option to take the deed back if certain development deadlines aren’t met.
A fuel cell was soon introduced to the project proposal by dck, with federal tax credits for such a project offering a major incentive, but the project was again repeatedly delayed, with the deadline in the reverter clause being extended a number of times.
While Galligan said the town temporarily suspended the reverter clause as dck pursued the development of a casino for several months, a new deadline was instated at the beginning of this month after the tribes working on the casino decided against the location.
Galligan said the current agreement gave dck another 60 days — or until early April — to submit a site plan for a 25,000-square-foot facility.
According to Galligan, dck’s primary interest is in tech parks and stadiums.