May 7, 2018

FuelCell Energy pushes for bigger clean-power buy

FuelCell Energy CEO Chip Bottone.

Concerned about their prospects of winning new business, fuel cell proponents are urging the legislature to allow for a larger selection of clean energy projects in a competitive bidding process that's already underway.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is currently evaluating the merits of nearly 30 clean energy projects that bid into a state-led RFP, which is open to fuel cells, wind turbines and anaerobic digesters.

The state would direct utilities to procure electricity from the projects it selects.

The industry is pushing a legislative amendment that would increase the size of the power procurement -- to 6 percent of the state's annual electric load, up from 4 percent in current law.

Time is short, with the legislative session scheduled to end this week. FuelCell Energy CEO Chip Bottone said Friday that the industry hopes the amendment will make it into Senate Bill 9, a wide-ranging energy policy measure.

Bottone said in an interview that a higher cap could give developers of fuel cell projects a better chance, though no guarantee, of being selected by DEEP.

The RFP does not include solar projects, and was seen as a way to help the state's fuel cell companies, which struck out in a 2016 RFP process.

Bottone says he is worried something similar may happen when DEEP announces its selections this year.

Fuel cell proponents have griped about the way DEEP designed the recent RFP, creating specific "buckets" for different types of generation technologies. Some are concerned that wind projects could sweep the competition.

They were also concerned about the plans laid out in DEEP's recently released Comprehensive Energy Strategy, which said fuel cells that use natural gas, while important for grid resiliency and reliability, may not deserve to hold the highest renewable status (Class I), a category that includes wind and solar. That could hurt fuel cells' financial viability.

Bottone said he's not being critical of any other clean energy technology, but merely wants "to have a seat at the state's energy table in a meaningful way."

However, DEEP pushed back against Bottone's prediction that fuel cells won't fare well in the new RFP. The agency says it hasn't given bidders reason to believe they will or won't be picked.

DEEP spokesman Chris Collibee said that no official or unofficial notices have been sent to bidders, and won't be for a month or more.

"The agency is currently reviewing proposals that we received as part of our RFP," Collibee said. "We have not made any selections at this time. June remains our timeframe for selection of projects. We continue to engage in productive conversations with legislative leaders and other stakeholders regarding [S.B. 9], an important piece of legislation that is vital to Connecticut meeting not just its climate change goals but bringing down the cost of renewables."

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