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Big Fuel Cell Takes 500-Unit New Haven Condo Off the Grid

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

by Paul Bass, NEW HAVEN INDEPENDENT, May 28, 2010

image Crews in the Gulf of Mexico Friday continued to wrestle with the largest oil spill in US history. Meanwhile, a 400-kilowatt fuel cell arrived in New Haven—destined to become the largest such stand-alone clean-energy generator in an apartment complex anywhere in the world.

Was it a transition to a more hopeful energy future?

That was the hope of people gathered in downtown’s Pitkin Plaza Friday for a festive “Fuel Cell Arrival Ceremony.”

They watched as a crane and a crew from Smedley Crane & Rigging lifted the trailer-sized metal contraption from a truck to the first floor of 360 State Street, the 700,000-square-foot, 33-story commercial-residential complex about to open (in August) at State, Chapel and Orange streets.

Also Friday, the developer of 360 State—Bruce Becker—revealed plans for a new block-long downtown grocery store. He said the for-profit “hybrid” market (selling both natural foods and mainstream products) will occupy about 12,000 square feet fronting Chapel Street on the project’s ground floor, perhaps as soon as the year’s end. Tentative title: the Elm City Food Co-op. (More about that later in this article.)

Publicly, Friday’s event was all about the fuel cell—and the energy future of cities and the country.

“I doubt any fuel cell on this planet has been so eagerly awaited,” Bruce Becker (told) told the gathering of movers and shakers assembled in the plaza. “This is the world’s largest fuel cell in any residential building. We’re making history today.”

“Only by changing … the way we build, the way we generate power” can we start to live more sustainably as a society, Becker argued.

Becker’s firm, Becker & Becker, is spending close to $4 million to purchase and install the fuel cell, which takes in natural gas, removes hydrogen, then strips electrons from the hydrogen atoms to create electricity. It will provide “nearly” 100 percent of the electricity for the complex’s 500 apartments and its stores and common areas. It will heat the building’s water, including in the swimming pool. UTC Power, a South Windsor-based United Technologies subsidiary, manufactured the fuel cell.

The fuel cell accomplishes goals sought by many people concerned about climate change, foreign wars, or the high cost of energy. It doesn’t burn fossil fuels—which pollute, and make the country dependent on foreign governments or offshore drilling in this country. It’s far cheaper than conventional energy sources, and not reliant on wind or sun, like other alternative sources. [Read rest of story]

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