Fuel cell executive says state officials not helpful to industry
BERLIN— Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told municipal and business leaders last Thursday that he “stands with the (fuel cell) industry” in terms of promoting its growth, but an executive from at least one company in the sector isn’t convinced.
Malloy’s remarks came at forum on fuel cells held by Eversource Energy at the company’s Connecticut operations center.
The governor said the state already has invested in fuel cell technology through projects statewide that produce around 50 megawatts of power. The state is involved in projects that would add between 60 megawatts and 108 megawatts to that total, Malloy said.
But Frank Wolak, vice-president of American sales for Danbury-based FuelCell Energy, said Malloy’s public expressions of support for the industry aren’t being followed through on by state agencies, especially the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“We are thankful for the governor’s support, yet we remain conflicted and concerned by the outcome of the state’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy,” Wolak said after hearing Malloy’s remarks.
The Comprehensive Energy Strategy serves as Connecticut’s energy road map and after spending months fine-tuning the plan, DEEP released the final version of the document last week. A portion of the plan calls for moving fuel cells out of the Class 1 renewable designation.
Such a move would make fuel cell projects less financially viable.
The way the system works now, fuel cell projects earn renewable energy credits based on the amount of power they produce. Those credits can be bought and sold, which lowers the overall cost of the projects.
But without being designated as a Class 1 renewable, a designation that also includes wind and solar projects, fuel cells would not be eligible for renewable energy credits.
Fuel cells convert natural gas into electricity and heat through a highly efficient electrochemical process that is free of combustion. The process creates virtually no unhealthy emissions that are released into the air.
FuelCell Energy was one of three fuel cell companies taking part in Thursday’s event. The others were Doosan Fuel Cell America, a subsidiary of a South Korean company that has a factory in South Windsor, and Bloom Energy, based in California.
Doosan has had some success launching fuel cell projects in northern New Haven County. The company has fuel cells operating at Waterbury’s wastewater treatment plant and at a similar facility in Naugatuck.
Warren “Pete” Hess, Naugatuck’s mayor, is so impressed with the costs savings that fuel cells yield that officials there are in the midst of negotiating a deal that would bring another generating unit to the borough’s high school. The fuel cell operating at the Naugatuck wastewater treatment plant is saving the community $175,000 a year in energy costs, according to the mayor.
Mike Coskun, general manager of sales and business development for Doosan Fuel Cell America, said the company is able to guarantee a certain level of savings spread over 20-year contracts to its municipal customers. The company is about to roll out a shorter-term contract tailored to business customers.
“Twenty years is big commitment for a business,” Coskun said.
Mitch Gross, an Eversource spokesman, said the company held the forum in order to educate businesses and municipal officials about viability of fuel cells as an energy source. Eversouce benefits from the increased use of fuel cells, according to Gross, because the company sells natural gas in addition to its role as an electricity distribution company.