Groups support proposed fuel cell legislation

A rendering of the proposed Beacon Falls Energy Park. –CONTRIBUTED

More than a dozen businesses and public agencies have voiced support for proposed legislation to allow electric utilities to procure up to 10 megawatts of electricity from fuel cells.

The state General Assembly’s Energy & Technology Committee last week held a hearing on the measure, proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy as part of a microgrid pilot program to foster greater grid reliability. Current law, with the exception of Eversource and UIL Holdings, does not allow electricity distributors to generate electricity.

The proposed bill would help the fuel cell industry stay in Connecticut — where it was born — and further the use of renewable energy in the state, Committee House Chair Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said.

“I’m for it and I think the (committee) leadership is for it, but we’re still exploring and examining it,” she said.

She said the 25-member committee still needs to vote on sending the bill to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Bill Corvo, president of CT Energy & Technology, parent firm of the Beacon Falls Energy Park project, urged the committee to adopt Malloy’s bill but also asked that the allowed megawatts be increased to 150 megawatts.

In his written testimony, Corvo cited the “immediate availability” of the 63.3-megawatt fuel cell energy park planned for Beacon Falls that is owned by Torrington-based O&G Industries. The fuel cells would be made by Danbury-based FuelCell Energy, which has a factory in Torrington.

“The Beacon Falls project is a fully permitted and shovel ready project which can be fully operational by the end of 2019,” he said, adding that the project will create 500 manufacturing and construction jobs in the state. “Many of the jobs will be sustained over the 20-year life of the project because FuelCell will operate and maintain the facility.”

The project was stalled in October when it was not selected out of 24 firms for contract negotiations under the New England Clean Energy Request for Proposals.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection gave the go-ahead to four other companies to bring about 460 megawatts of clean energy to Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

A FuelCell Energy official said the hydrogen and fuel cell industry supports about 3,400 jobs and 600 supply chain companies, produces $726 million in total revenue and investment and yielded $40 million in state and local tax revenue in 2015.

“The system upgrades and improvements that can be achieved under this proposal, including grid resiliency and economic development, are wide and varying,” Frank Wolak, vice president of government business, stated in written testimony. “Accordingly, (FuelCell Energy) wishes to make clear its enthusiastic support for this proposal.”

He recommended that the amount of megawatts permitted in the legislation be increased to 30 megawatts.

Officials with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said Malloy’s legislation would play an important part in current grid modernization initiatives and recognizes the benefits fuel cells can provide to the grid.

“Such benefits include harmonizing load, providing voltage support, and deferring the need for costly distribution system upgrades in the future,” DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee and PURA Chairwoman Katie Dykes said.

Other organizations in favor of the proposal include Connecticut Business & Industry Association, Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, state Department of Economic and Community Development, Berlin-based Eversource Energy and UIL Holdings Corp. of New Haven.