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Tuesday, March 20 Business

Delegation urges federal funds to be released to FuelCell Energy

The state’s congressional delegation said it sees the value in fuel cell technology and urged on Friday the Department of Energy to release additional obligated funds to FuelCell Energy.

In a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the delegation called for the remaining $12 million of a $15 million commitment be released to the Danbury-based company as it reaches milestones associated a project in Alabama.

The commitment was made in 2015 and FuelCell Energy has received $3 million so far — $2 million at the time of the commitment and $1 million last August.

“We urge the department to obligate the remaining funds as quickly as possible,” the letter reads.

The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. Reps. John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and and Elizabeth Esty. A similar letter was sent earlier this year by the Alabama delegation.

The funding is tied to a large-scale demonstration fuel cell technology power plant in Barry, Ala., according to the letter. The project will demonstrate carbon capture from natural gas- and coal-fueled power generation. The delegation sees the plant as “a critical research project for our economy and environment,” the letter reads.

Under the agreement between the Department of Energy and FuelCell Energy, additional funds will be released once FuelCell Energy reaches certain milestones.

FuelCell Energy officials said the funding so far has kept pace with the milestones achieved, but they want to make sure the new budget sent to the Department of Energy continues to fund the project.

“So far there is no hold up, but we want to make sure there is no hold up as we reach these milestones,” Chip Bottone, president and CEO of FuelCell Energy, said. “Carbon capture is critically important to this country. It is solving one of the biggest problems the world has.”

Bottone said the approximately 2.5 megawatt project will result in a 90 percent carbon reduction at the power plant and do it “in the most economical way in the world.”

Esty said she signed the letter because she thinks the country needs to take the lead in smart energy technology, and veer away from pursuing fossil fuels. She said holding back the funding would make it difficult for FuelCell Energy to pursue the project.

“This is about American jobs, American manufacturing and American competitiveness. I want this to move forward,” Esty said. “This is the type of funding the government ought to be doing to keep America at the forefront of clean energy.”

FuelCell Energy, which has been based in Danbury since its founding in 1969, designs, manufactures and operates megawatt-class fuel cell power plants. Fuel cell plants, using ambient air and a hydrogen-rich fuel such as natural gas, create electricity and heat through an electrochemical reaction without producing noxious emissions because no combustion occurs.

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Fuel cell power is classified as a Class I renewable energy source in Connecticut and seven other states because of its efficiency, reliability, lack of emissions and the possibility that it may be fueled by renewable sources.

FuelCell Energy employs about 500 people — 240 at its Danbury headquarters, 200 in Torrington and the others in smaller offices in places such Germany, Canada and California.

The Torrington facility is undergoing an expansion that will essentially double its space. The expansion is being helped by $30 million in state financial aid.

cbosak@hearstmediact.com; 203-731-3338