November 21, 2011 | last updated June 1, 2012 3:46 pm

CT juvenile center rethinks costly fuel cells

After spending millions of dollars to run a state complex with fuel cells, partly to boast of their size and also to tout a homegrown industry, Connecticut officials concede privately that the cost is too high and they're looking to get out of a complicated, long-term contract, The Associated Press reports.

The state spends $1.4 million every year for the fuel cells at its 10-year-old juvenile center, an amount that Connecticut's energy commissioner, Daniel Esty, called excessive in an email Sept. 6 to the governor's budget chief.

"The fuel cells installed were oversized for the facility to be able to 'brag' about it being the largest fuel cell installation in the world" at that time, he wrote in the email that was obtained by The Associated Press in a Freedom of Information request.

He was responding to a message from the budget chief, Benjamin Barnes, who said removing the fuel cells would save that $1.4 million each year - "real money by any measure."

But state officials have been reluctant to remove the cells "because of the appearance that we were renouncing green technology and because it was launched with some fanfare," Barnes wrote. "This position deserves at least reconsideration."

The emails shed light on a pricey state subsidy and the cost of fuel cells at a time when policymakers want to wean energy users off such fossil fuels as natural gas and oil, and show the state's willingness to part with a long-promoted project to close its budget deficit in tough economic times.

The fuel cells were installed in 2001 at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, which was a debacle from the start. The contract to build it was corrupted in a scandal that took down a top adviser to then-Gov. John G. Rowland, who himself resigned after a corruption probe.

The fuel cells, chillers, boilers, switch gear and piping were installed as part of a 30-year deal, said Richard Ogurick, manager of plant operations for Ameresco, an energy services company that runs the fuel cell system.

"It was inconceivable they'd stop using fuel cells here," Ogurick said. "How can you on one hand be advocating for fuel cell development and be telling businesses that's what they ought to do and not do it at your own facility? It doesn't make very much sense."

Connecticut is home to two of the largest makers of fuel cells, UTC Power in Windsor and Fuel Cell Energy Inc. in Danbury.

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