Calif. jail turns to fuel cells for clean power

FuelCell Energy, a global leader in ultra‐clean, efficient and reliable fuel cell power plants, has begun the commercial operation of a megawatt-class combined heat and power fuel cell plant at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif.

The plant, according to a press release, generates continuous on-site power and heat for the correctional facility, enhancing power reliability for critical infrastructure while simultaneously advancing its sustainability goals through the ultra-clean fuel cell generation process.

Under a power purchase agreement (PPA), Alameda County pays for the power as it is produced at a cost lower than electric grid prices, achieving cost savings without any capital outlay. FuelCell Energy retains the PPA and long-term project cash flows through a direct subsidiary with financing provided by PNC Energy Capital.

The fuel cell power plant operates in tandem with Santa Rita Jail’s existing solar array, demonstrating the complimentary features of combining energy sources at the same location to reduce exposure to peak pricing, the release said. The power generated by the fuel cell plant meets approximately 60 percent of Santa Rita Jail’s total power needs and the CHP configuration provides heat for hot water. Total thermal efficiency for this installation is approximately 68 percent.

Generating both power and heat from the same unit of fuel reduces emissions and fuel usage from combustion-based boilers, decreasing the county’s carbon footprint while enhancing the sustainability profile of Santa Rita Jail.

FuelCell Energy’s direct subsidiary recently closed on financing with PNC Energy Capital through a sale lease-back transaction. The power purchase agreement structure supported by this financing enabled Alameda County to avoid an upfront investment in the power generation equipment and, instead, purchase power as it is produced by the project.

The ultra-clean fuel cell power generation process avoids combustion and associated pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide (NOₓ) that causes smog and sulfur dioxide (SOₓ) that contributes to acid rain and particulate matter that can aggravate asthma. The jail installation will avoid the emission of approximately 5,800 tons of CO₂ per year, when compared to average United States grid, equivalent to the carbon absorbed by approximately 4,900 acres of U.S. forest in one year.

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