Bloom Energy, a Silicon Valley company that specializes in fuel cell technology, is suing the city of Santa Clara for enacting new renewable energy rules the company says essentially ban its line of work.
Last month, the city passed a resolution requiring fuel cell users that rely on its electric grid for back-up power to tap solar, wind, biogas or other renewable energy sources within the state. The city’s electric utility, called Silicon Valley Power, has pledged to make all new energy sources renewable and free of greenhouse gases by 2045.
But Bloom Energy, a San Jose company that manufactures fuel cells, argues renewable fuels such as biogas are expensive and in very limited supply in California.
Bloom’s fuel cells combine fuel and hot air to produce a chemical reaction that creates electricity without any burning. Most of the company’s customers, including Intel and Equinix in Santa Clara, use natural gas, although that process can be powered by renewable fuels too.
The company also argues its technology is inherently cleaner than the city’s natural gas-fired power plants, so the city regulation would actually produce more greenhouse gases by shifting fuel cell users to the city grid.
Josh Richman, Bloom’s vice president of business development and policy, said the company filed the suit after the city failed to consider the expert testimony and alternatives it presented.
“Unfortunately, they ignored all of these facts and alternative approaches,” Richman said. “This left us with no other choice but to take them to court in an attempt to preserve the right in Santa Clara to choose to install clean energy technologies like fuel cells.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to rescind the city regulation until a full environmental analysis has been conducted.
The city, which declined to comment on the lawsuit, disagrees with the company’s assertion that its fuel cells are inherently cleaner. Assistant City Manager Manuel Pineda previously said the city has increased the percentage of its portfolio that relies on renewable energy and is free of greenhouse gases, making it a cleaner option than natural gas-powered fuel cells.
Pineda has also said the new rules only apply to customers that use the city grid for back-up, and the company’s customers can continue to use fuel cells if it disconnects from the city grid.