By Lisa Capobianco
For the past three years of Jack McCarthy’s high school career, the senior has passed by polluted brownfield and superfund sites during his bus route. As his eyes viewed the details of the plots of land not used as residential areas, a light bulb flashed: the town can use the landscape for fuel cells to create clean energy.
“I have been pondering this question my entire school career,” McCarthy said. “It blossomed and became more of a project than expected.”
McCarthy said fuel cells are “relatively cheap and small in comparison to a power plant that relies on nuclear energy to create power.” Fuel cells create energy by converting hydrogen or oxygen into water, and they do not create any hazardous wastes. McCarthy said fuel cells are also unique because they do not rely on geography to produce power.
“It is logical, nonpolluting energy,” McCarthy said. “Getting energy from an extension chord is ludicrous to me.”
Without any guidance from his teachers, McCarthy conducted his own research on the value of fuel cells the last ew years. He also contacted companies like FuelCell Energy, Inc. in Danbury to learn more about the advantages of fuel cells.
“Not only is [FuelCell Energy] an American company, but it is also a Connecticut company,” McCarthy said.
The end product of McCarthy’s project was a detailed report of his research: how fuel cells produce clean energy, how fuel cell companies play a role in Connecticut and how Southington would be eligible to apply for state and federal programs to help pay for the new energy source if the town decides to use it in the future.
McCarthy decided to share his proposal in person with Town Manager Garry Brumback and members of the Environmental Energy Commission during a meeting last week.
Town Councilor John Barry, a member of the commission, said McCarthy’s report serves as part of a bigger puzzle to consider other options of producing electricity. He hopes the town will embrace renewable energy in the future.
“It’s starting the conversation,” Barry said. “It’s about how we can save money, move forward and use fuel cells in a positive way.”
Brumback also thanked McCarthy for his presentation, and said the town may consider using superfund sites for other uses including producing clean energy.
“We are looking for opportunities to adaptively reuse…our superfund site, so it is something to think about,” said Brumback after McCarthy finished his presentation.
Brumback also said although there are positive effects of using fuel cells, the town would still have to research other issues, including the impact of digging up soil, since using a landfill is sensitive.
“McCarthy was well-prepared,” Brumback said. “There are still some questions we need to consider, and he took them down.”
Although he felt nervous before his presentation in front of the town officials, McCarthy said he knew that change is possible when one person speaks up.
“I was terrified, even though I have experience speaking in front of a crowd,” McCarthy said. “It really takes only one voice in the darkness to bring something to attention.”