Utility Pulls Plug on Boston Fuel Cell Effort

Organizations looking to save electricity costs by incorporating fuel cells and other distributed generation resources should study the experience of Boston University (BU), which recently cancelled plans to install a 4-MW fuel cell. The decision illustrates a major challenge to facility managers—just how far off the grid do they want to go? The unit was anticipated to be the primary powe...

06/01/2004


Organizations looking to save electricity costs by incorporating fuel cells and other distributed generation resources should study the experience of Boston University (BU), which recently cancelled plans to install a 4-MW fuel cell. The decision illustrates a major challenge to facility managers—just how far off the grid do they want to go?

The unit was anticipated to be the primary power source for several new campus structures now under construction. However, school officials wanted to maintain a standby grid connection to the local utility, NStar Electric, for occasions when the fuel cell was down for maintenance or other reasons. NStar warned the university that, as a result, the school would still be required to pay large connection fees, regardless of whether it drew power from the grid for the new structures or not.

The move has angered area environmentalists, who argue the utility is trying to force large customers to maintain grid connections, even as cleaner distributed-generation options become available. The utility argues that it needs to build and maintain a distribution system sized to the largest possible demand—including potential standby loads—and that it is unfair to force fully connected customers to carry the entire financial burden of such preparedness.

The utility currently has a rate case before the Massachusetts Dept. of Telecommunications and Energy that would write this understanding into law. The plan would require large customers who install distributed resources to pay the full cost of a standby utility connection. Targeted equipment would include wind turbines, solar panels and small hydroelectric plants along with fuel cells such as the one BU intended to install.





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