VTA gets $750K federal grant for Bloom Energy fuel cells

The Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) will receive $750,000 in federal funding for the agency’s first Bloom Energy fuel cell facility.

South Bay Congressional representatives, who are always eager to tout grants in their districts, released news of the grant this week. But the VTA has yet to enter into a contractual agreement with Bloom, currently slated to be brought before the VTA Board of Directors for approval in November.

Bloom is the Sunnyvale fuel-cell start-up that has a bold mission to make clean, reliable energy affordable to everyone in the world. The company has an aggressive business development strategy and several high-profile customers, including utilities like Delmarva Power and Apple, which is using Bloom’s fuel cells to partially power its new data center in Maiden, N.C.

Each Bloom Energy Server — commonly known as “Bloom Boxes” — typically provides 100 kilowatts of power. The VTA project would consist of 12 independent power modules operating across two 200kW systems.

But the total cost of the 400kW fuel cell facility is pegged at $4 million, raising a lot of questions: is the cost of a Bloom Box $10,000 a kilowatt? And isn’t that kind of high? Bloom Energy declined to comment.

VTA still has to finance the rest of the project, and plans to enter into a 20-year Purchase Power Agreement with Bloom. Bloom installs and maintains the system;  VTA purchases electricity from Bloom at predetermined prices per kilowatt hour over 20 years.

“A clean, affordable transit system is vital to our local economy and environment,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto). “This funding will help reduce VTA bus emissions in a cost effective way by using new, cutting-edge fuel cell technology, developed right here in California’s 14th Congressional District. A green economy is a healthy economy.”

VTA operates two rail lines in the South Bay and a fleet of 450 buses and has already taken several “green” steps, including adding SunPower solar panels to three of its bus yards.


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  • gary schwab

    Please explain why a 400KW fuel cell plant would cost $4 million? That seems way too costly when Fuel Cell Energy sells their power plants for $3,000 / KW. Fuel Cell Energy has more units in the field and has been around longer with a world wide proven track record.

    Do you have any idea why VTA would spend $10,000 / KW when they could buy a similar plant at 1/3 the cost? What is Bloom offering to adjust for the vast difference in price on top of selling a non-commercial power plant with a non-proven stack life?

  • misterclean

    It is absolutely scandalous that public funds are being doled out to BLOOM without an open and competitive bidding process where companies and technologies can be compared fairly.

    If there is no technology agnostic RFP forthcoming, somebody is playing favorites and abusing the public trust.

  • Bob

    You have to factor in all the numbers: $4M – $750k (fed grant)- $960k (utility incentive) = $2.3M ($5.75 watt). Bloom uses natural gas (NG) to produce electricity without combustion. NG is cheap $2.80 per mmBtu; and NG prices can be locked in for up to 10 years. Considering Bloom’s electrical efficiency is > 50% they produce power at ~$0.11 Vs utility E19 tariff (VTA) rate including loaded cost (taxes and demand charges) is ~$0.13, thus a 2 cents savings. Add that up for 20 years and it is a significant cost savings. This is not even accounting for utility rate increases which are in progress so savings will be greater over time. Additionally, other fuel cell manufactures do not have this electrical efficiency (not even close); nor a scalable platform in 100kW increments for future growth. Most others scale in 400kW or 1.2MW increments. Other important attributes is that Bloom has multiple individual power plants (fuel cells)–6 per 200kW system. Vs one power plant (fuel cell) from other manufactures. So no single point of failure. Not to mention Bloom is HQ’d and manufactures in CA. Good for local economy. I do not think other solutions were considered as they do have this type of solution. Why waste tax payer dollars on an RFP process. I am glad to see an agency be smart about this tax/rate payers time and money-especially during hard economic times when cities and munis are going bankrupt.