Bloom doesn’t shine as bright in some parts of Delaware

    It hasn’t been easy for Bloom Energy, since the April 30 groundbreaking at the University of Delaware STAR (Science, Technology and Advanced Research) campus at the former site of the Chrysler Newark Assembly Plant.

    The event attracted a virtual who’s who of business and government leaders who lavished praise on Bloom and efforts by the administration of Gov. Jack Markell in bringing the company to Delaware.

    The northern California company wants to build fuel cells or “Bloom Boxes” that in his case will run on natural gas. In return, a Bloom subsidiary will operate two fuel cell complexes in northern Delaware that will feed electric power into the grid.

    Delmarva Power customers will pay an average of less than $8 a year for the electricity from the Bloom Boxes or energy servers that are said to cause less pollution than typical natural gas-powered generators.

    Eight dollars might not seem like much, but it has raised the ire of a small group of critics, led by the conservative public policy group, The Caesar Rodney Institute. The organization has been a persistent critic of Delaware’s mandate that requires utilities to use alternative energy sources to provide a portion of electric power that goes to homes and businesses.

    The institute claims the requirement leads to high electric rates that drive away business and hurt the poor, offsetting the benefits of manufacturing jobs created by Bloom.

    Its objections went nowhere, but the institute persisted and recently worked with a Delaware resident in a hearing before the board that grants permits in Delaware’s Coastal Zone, one of the sites of the Bloom servers that will feed power into the grid.

    Testifying was John Nichols who saw many problems with the Bloom technology including the use of rare earth minerals from China that he sees as potential pollutants.

    The institute was on hand and posted a video of Nichols’ objections. The board went on to approve the permit.

    These efforts drew little attention outside the state until a Washington, D.C.-based group, Cause of Action, filed suit on behalf of Fuel Cell Energy, a Connecticut-based fuel cell rival of Bloom as well as the above-mentioned Nichols. Not surprisingly, the Caesar Rodney Institute announced the lawsuit.

    The suit claims that the agreement with Bloom amounts to favoritism for a well-connected company by the administration of Gov. Jack Markell.

    The administration struck back with Markell spokesman and policy chief Brian Selander, accusing the Rodney Institute of a trying to “short circuit the creation of good middle class manufacturing jobs.”

    A day later, Bloom Energy and eBay announced plans for the use of 30 Bloom boxes at the online auction giant’s flagship data center in Utah. That bolsters the case for the company expanding production to Delaware, although it is not clear if the Newark plant would play a role in this project.

    The energy servers will provide all power for the eBay site, with the electric grid serving as a back-up source.

    In the meantime, the court battle will play out with hundreds of jobs possibly on the line.

    Doug Rainey is a freelance journalist.

    Contact:W.D. Rainey Media Specialist1 Chambly Ct., Newark, Del.

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