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Fuel cell companies reach out to legislators for equal status

February 23, 2018 GMT

HARTFORD — Connecticut’s hydrogen fuel cell companies appealed to legislators Thursday for help supporting the importance of their products to the state’s energy grid.

In a forum held Thursday, officials from Danbury’s FuelCell Energy Inc., South Windsor’s Doosan Fuel Cell America Inc., Wallingford’s Proton OnSite, Windsor’s Infinity Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Inc., North Haven’s Precision Combustion Inc. and East Hartford’s Sustainable Innovations argued that their technology is “ultra clean” and brings valuable manufacturing jobs to the state, among other economic benefits.

Other states and countries refer to Connecticut as the “Silicon Valley” of fuel cell technology, said Joel Rinebold, director of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology who helped form a coalition of the fuel cell companies.

Yet the companies are not feeling the support of the state, they said.

“We seem to be under attack by the very state that we call home,” said Jennifer Arasimowicz, senior vice president of FuelCell Energy Inc. “CT DEEP seems not to value fuel cells at all.”

Representatives of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said Thursday disagreed.

“DEEP is and remains supportive of the fuel cell industry,” said Chris Collibee, a spokeman for the Department. “They are a vital part of our cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy grid.”

Connecticut fuel cell companies said they are suffering from a series of blows, the latest of which was DEEP’s 2018 Comprehensive Energy Strategy. Published in January, the document recommends fuel cells be moved to a separate class from other renewable energies because they emit some greenhouse gases in their energy production.

“Fuel cells powered by natural gas provide important grid reliability and resiliency benefits but do not directly advance the state’s decarbonization goals,” the strategy states.

In October and November 2016, no hydrogen fuel cell companies won bid awards from DEEP for the state’s long-term renewable energy contracts. Of 29 projects selected, 21 were in solar and eight were in wind power.

For FuelCell, which planned to expand its Torrington factory and increase its payroll by 300 people, it was a blow. The company of 600 employees laid off 97 people.

In July 2017, the legislature, reacting to the fuel cell company complaints, passed a law promoting the use of fuel cells and amending some energy-related programs and requirements.

The support made industry officials hopeful for the next round of energy bids put out by the state, but when bid requests were issued in December, they were again disappointed.

“Some consideration needs to be given to a homegrown industry,” said David Giordano, government relations and business development director for Doosan Fuel Cell America.

Arasimowicz said she wished legislators and the administration would get on the same page.

“I believe there is a policy disconnect that has happened along the way,” she said.

state Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, said she was frustrated by how fuel cell policy seemed to be changing “midstream.”

“If we continue to push business out of the state of Connecticut or give people a reason not to come here, it just goes back on the typical record we’ve been trying to fight all along,” she said.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, a member of the Energy and Technology Committee and a self-described “unabashed fan of hydrogen fuel cell technology,” promised Thursday that discussions over fuel cells were coming.

“That conversation is going to happen,” he said.

emunson@greenwichtime.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson