Bloom Energy sues Santa Clara again for blocking fuel cells
Santa Clara, Calif., Effectively bans fuel cells to protect its municipal utility from competition, according to a complaint filed by Bloom Energy, a fuel cell company.
“The city has refused to process the pending applications, deeming them incomplete and requiring Bloom instead to seek the required discretionary use permits for the ‘power plants’,” Bloom said in a June 29 complaint filed with Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Last year, in response to an earlier Bloom lawsuit, a court judge said the raped city state law when it passed a resolution banning non-renewable fuels for distributed generation, including fuel cells.
Bloom owns five fuel cell facilities in Santa Clara totaling 14.9 MW that have been approved by the city via building permits, according to the lawsuit. The city has not required a user permit or environmental review.
Two years ago, Bloom filed requests to install 13 MW of additional fuel cell capacity for technology companies Intel and Equinix. According to Bloom, two of Intel’s existing fuel cell facilities are micro-grids.
City says fuel cells are ‘power plants’
After the court ruling, the city reinterpreted its zoning code to view fuel cells as power plants, according to Bloom. Additionally, the city has decided that the fuel cells should go through a state environmental review process. The city asked Bloom to pay $ 121,230 for the environmental review.
Bloom said its fuel cells are “ancillary uses” installed to provide power on site. They are roughly the same size and shape as other ancillary uses such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, according to the company.
Unlike a power plant, fuel cells are safe, quiet, and have such low emissions that they can be installed within walking distance of occupied areas, Bloom said.
“The city is effectively banning Bloom Energy servers from operating in the city through an unsupported and illegal reinterpretation of its own zoning code,” Bloom said. “By preventing and delaying the construction of new fuel cell projects, the city is illegally forcing companies to use [Silicon Valley Power] to promote its own economic interests.
Bloom’s lawsuit cites emails between employees of Silicon Valley Power, the city’s utility, explaining how fuel cells are reducing utility sales and the need to limit fuel cells in the city.
Silicon Valley Power has a peak demand of around 590 MW and sales to industrial customers account for about 90% of all its sales, according to the utility.
Bloom has deployed fuel cells worldwide for a total of more than 500 MW, according to the San Jose, Calif., Based company. Bloom argues that its fuel cells produce fewer carbon emissions than the most efficient natural gas turbines and almost no emissions of nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide.