The state's firms account for more than half of the fuel cell production in the northeastern United States.
by Luther Turmelle, New Haven Register, CT
(TNS) — Connecticut’s fuel cell industry has the potential to grow despite some recent setbacks the sector has received, according to the chairman of a group that supports the hydrogen and fuel cell industry through education and outreach.
Joel Rinebold, chairman of Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster, said the sector can continue to grow despite the setbacks, albeit at a slower pace, He is also the director of energy at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology,
The two setbacks, according to Rinebold were:
• A failure to renew fuel-cell tax credits at the federal level.
A decision by Connecticut and Massachusetts officials not to reject a bid by a Beacon Falls fuel cell farm for inclusion in multi-renewable energy procurement.
“We still see the industry moving forward,” Rinebold said. “But it’s going to be considerably more difficult.”
The 30 percent investment tax credit for qualified fuel cell projects “provides substantial cash flow” for companies like Danbury-based FuelCell Energy, Rinebold said. The company, which has a factory in Torrington, is also involved in the Beacon Falls project.
The setbacks the industry suffered prompted FuelCell Energy to announce in early December that the company was laying off 96 employees.
Although it remains uncertain whether the incoming Trump administration will renew the fuel cell industry’s tax credits, Rinebold said the president-elect’s campaign included a major focus on domestic energy sources and creating manufacturing jobs around the country.
“This is an industry that Trump should like,” he said.
Connecticut firms currently account for more than half of the fuel cell production in the northeastern United States, according to Global Market Insights, a global market research and consulting firm specializing in industry trends.
Rinebold said that Connecticut is “generally supportive” of fuel cell power and the Connecticut companies that either produce them or serve the industry’s needs.
“They recognize the value proposition of what we do,” he said. “But in this particular instance they did not select the home industry.”
The industry employs about 3,000 people in the state and generates $600 million a year in revenues. In addition to FuelCell Energy, another one of the industry’s major players in Connecticut is Doosan Energy, a South Korean company that has a presence in South Windsor.
Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said any suggestion that fuel cells should have been included in the multi-state renewable energy procurement effort doesn’t fully understand the goals of the effort.
“The selection process was heavily weighted on the cost of the project,” Schain said.
“Seventy-five percent of the scoring used in the selection was based upon renewable projects producing energy as cheaply as possible because rate payers are going to bear these costs for 20 years,” he said, referring to the long-term power purchase contracts that the procurement process winners will be eligible to receive.
Several other state energy programs have included fuel cells, Schain said, including the state’s micro-grid project.
A recent study conducted by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut found that the fuel cell industry here has the potential to create as many as 9,000 jobs a year in the state over the next 27 years if use of fuel cells is accelerated over that period of time. Steady growth in use of fuel cells would result in about 6,000 jobs as year being added to Connecticut’s economy.
Fred Carstensen, director of the CCEA, said Connecticut’s fuel cell industry “has the potential to yield significant economic benefits for the state in terms of jobs, income, and public revenue.”
“In a state struggling to generate significant growth in quality jobs, expansion in real output, and improved tax revenue, the fuel cell sector has the potential to deliver a powerful helping hand,” Carstensen said in a statement.