A fuel cell plant may be installed near the back entrance to the aquarium in Riverhead.
A fuel cell plant may be installed near the back entrance to the aquarium in Riverhead.

The Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center may be the recipient of the leftover thermal energy generated by a new hydrogen fuel cell energy generator being proposed for downtown Riverhead.

The project came about after a Connecticut company called Fuel Cell Energy won contracts in LIPA’s 2014 round of renewable energy contracts to build three 1.4 megawatt fuel cell generators in Suffolk County, including one in Riverhead Town.

Fuel Cell Energy's 1.4 megawatt fuel cell plant.
One of Fuel Cell Energy’s 1.4 megawatt fuel cell plants.

The fuel cell, which would be powered by natural gas, uses the chemical reaction between positively charged hydrogen ions and oxygen to produce electricity. The byproducts of this reaction are warm water, which can be used as a thermal heat source, and the minerals that are filtered out of that water.

More information on Fuel Cell Energy’s 1.4 megawatt plant is online here.

Riverhead Town had initially been planning to site the plant near the Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, where the duck farm was expected to receive the thermal energy created by the plant, with the electricity produced — enough to power 300 to 400 homes — would be tied into the grid, explained Riverhead Town Engineer Ken Testa at the Riverhead Town Board’s Feb. 25 work session.

But discussions with the duck farm fell through, and the town is now looking to partner with Atlantis Holdings, the owners of the aquarium, on a plan for them to use the thermal energy. The fuel cell would be placed on land leased by Fuel Cell Energy from the town in the parking lot near the rear of the aquarium, just east of the Salvation Army, taking up seven parking spaces.

Mr. Testa told the town board that the plant must be sited in close proximity to the receiver of the thermal energy, but the contract states that the electric power generated must go back to clients near the original site proposed by the duck farm.

The plant comes in one of two configurations. One is 40 by 60 feet wide, while the other is 30 by 80 feet.

Councilwoman Jodie Giglio pointed out that the aquarium spends about $750,000 on electricity each year.

Atlantis Holdings Executive Director Bryan DeLuca told the board that most of the tanks in the aquarium contain cold-water species and need to be chilled, so the warm water would actually be used to power absorption chillers to cool the tank water, offsetting about $120,000 of their annual energy cost.

Mr. Testa said the riverfront site of the plant would need to be elevated three to four feet to keep it out of the floodplain — the parking lots along the river near the aquarium flood regularly during storms. The plant would also be screened so that it wouldn’t be as glaringly visible from the street level.

Mr. Testa said that LIPA has not yet approved the change of location, and would need letters of intent from the town and the aquarium on the thermal energy agreement.

“LIPA wants all their ducks in a row before they make their final decision,” said Mr. Testa. “Their concern is that the power go back into the area where it’s needed, in the same vicinity as the duck farm.”


Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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