Bloom Energy News: CA Regulators Approve Utility Fuel Cell Projects

Last month it looked like fuel cells weren’t such a good match for utilities in California, when an administrative law judge made a preliminary decision to reject fuel cell projects from California utilities. But oh how things change in a month — this afternoon the California Public Utilities Commission has approved a request from PG&E and Southern California Edison to install fuel cells from Bloom Energy and FuelCell Energy on campuses in California.

PG&E will install three fuel cells with a total capacity of 3 MW. One 1.4 MW fuel cell from FuelCell Energy will be installed at California State University, East Bay and two fuel cells — one 200-kW fuel cell from Bloom Energy, and a 1.4 MW fuel cell from FuelCell Energy — will be installed at San Francisco State University (SFSU). The total PG&E project will cost $20.3 million, plus operational costs of $9 million. That $20.3 million is about $1 million less than the proposal that administrative law judge Dorothy Duda initially recommended for rejection by the CPUC last month. At the time, Duda said that the fuel cell project would cost: “[T]hree times the price paid to renewable generation.”

Southern California Edison will also install three fuel cells for 3 MW on California campuses, including two FuelCell Energy systems at CSU San Bernardino and CSU Long Beach, and one Bloom Energy fuel cell at University of California, Santa Barbara. The SCE project will cost $19.1 million to install and $9 million in operation and maintenance costs.

The utilities’ fuel cell projects are pilot projects and will help the utilities learn how fuel cells can generate power for their grids. Kory Raftery spokesperson for PG&E tells us that “the whole point is to explore the fuel cell technology.” PG&E plans to have the three fuel cells installed and operational within six months to a year. PG&E filed for approval of the fuel cell program with the CPUC over a year ago.

Fuel cells are far more renewable if they are run on biogas — methane from organic waste. Bloom Energy’s claim that its fuel cells can be 100 percent carbon free relies on the use of biogas, but as we’ve pointed out, only a small amount of biogas is being prepared to be injected into California pipelines. PG&E’s Raftery told us that at this point the utility isn’t sure if biogas will be available at the sites where it will install the fuel cells.

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