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.

Dana Hull Dana Hull (208 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.