The recent announcement by FuelCell Energy to develop a 63-megawatt fuel cell park in Beacon Falls is of high interest and demonstrates the progress of the fuel cell industry, which should not come as a surprise.
Fuel cell technology is among the cleanest electric generation technologies with ultra-low emissions of primary air pollutants and greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Further, the technology is typically dispatchable with some ability for load following and is defined as a Class I renewable energy facility by Connecticut law.
This classification as a renewable energy facility means that fuel cells will be able to enter the renewable energy credit market with a high capacity factor regardless of wind resources and sunlight needed by other renewable energy projects. It will also provide Connecticut and other states with an alternative to purchasing renewable energy from remote locations, which may have low capacity factors and require storage and transmission to deliver energy to consumers.
With these attributes, fuel cells should be viewed as a new market opportunity to the natural gas industry, as they will use relatively inexpensive, clean, and available natural gas to fuel an ultra-efficient, renewable generation technology. In Connecticut, the reasons for the Class I renewable energy facility distinction include the ability of fuel cell technology to operate on natural gas or pure hydrogen potentially derived from renewable resources.
Connecticut's forward-looking policy, which uses technical innovation and abundant, hydrogen-rich (CH4) natural gas as a transition fuel, moves both the state and the nation closer to a zero-emission, renewable, hydrogen-energy economy.
The renewable energy industry should also find this technology improves the value proposition for renewable energy projects, such as solar and wind. With the limitation to produce electrical energy intermittently (only when the sun shines or wind blows), the renewable energy industry will have the ability to make use of off-peak electricity to generate energy and then store it as hydrogen. That energy can be used to fuel zero-emission vehicles, produce thermal energy and electricity with fuel cell technology whenever needed, or be introduced into the natural gas pipeline. This power-to-gas application could potentially develop a new renewable gas credit market.
In terms of the fuel cell park's local impact, resident opposition should not be an issue. The technology is clean, quiet, efficient, and unobtrusive; and the planned location is within a former sand quarry that will generate an estimated $90 million in local property taxes over the project life.
Further, the project is proposed to produce affordable energy for ratepayers and be built with private capital financing. The added benefits that will come from this project are economic development and job creation. In fact, the Northeast states now lead in the global research and manufacture of advanced hydrogen fuel cell technology with more than 1,100 companies in the supply chain and 5,700 total jobs.
Connecticut is at the center of this research and manufacturing cluster, recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration, with eight original equipment manufacturers, more than 600 supply chain companies, and more than 2,600 total jobs. Continued investment in the hydrogen fuel cell industry will add to job creation and economic development, in addition to providing clean, long-term, energy sustainability.
The proposed Beacon Falls project, billed as the world's largest fuel cell park, will exceed other FuelCell Energy projects in Korea and Connecticut. It will indeed be an important milestone but this title of distinction as the world's largest will not likely stay for long as fuel cell technology emerges as the technology of choice for cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable energy with special interest by the renewable energy and natural gas industries.