Amid criticism, DNREC postpones Bloom Energy hearing

The News Journal | by Karl Baker

Amid criticism, Delaware regulators postponed a hearing to discuss Bloom Energy’s request for an air quality permit, which would allow it to swap out old fuel cells near Newark and Red Lion for new models of the electricity generators.

The Delaware Department Natural Resources and Environmental Control had scheduled the meeting for Dec. 27. On Tuesday, the hearing was removed from the public meeting calendar.

DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti confirmed in an email that the agency rescheduled the meeting for Jan. 10.

“The hearing was rescheduled out of consideration for the public with regard to the holiday season,” DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said in a statement.

Bloom’s many boisterous critics in Delaware had claimed the Dec. 27 date, between Christmas and New Year’s, would depress public participation.

“I agree that scheduling this hearing in the middle of the holiday period is an affront and insult to the public and formally request that the date be changed,” Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said in an email last month.

By filing for the permit last month, Bloom publicly announced its plan to replace its banks of Delaware fuel cells, called Bloom Boxes, which produce expensive electricity for the grid.

State law mandates that Delmarva Power ratepayers in Delaware purchase a portion of their electricity from Bloom’s natural gas-fueled generators in order to satisfy a renewable energy mandate.

The fuel cells produce power through an electro-chemical reaction with natural gas. The newer models that Bloom wishes to install in Delaware would be more efficient, company spokesman David McCulloch said last month.

When first contacted on Tuesday, McCulloch said he was not aware the meeting had been postponed. Then, in a follow-up email, he said he learned that it was Bloom officials who had requested the change.

“We are eager to explain the air quality benefits of the proposed project and the reasons we believe the permits should be granted,” he said in the email.

Bloom’s stock price collapsed last month after its Delaware announcement, presumably because investors were surprised that the company would have such a significant capital expenditure in front of it.

While Bloom did not announce the cost to build and install the new fuel cells, a subsequent report said it could be between $100 million and $150 million.

Still, the project in Delaware should not have been a surprise, Michael Weinstein, an investment analyst who covers Bloom, said last month.

They are in line with expectations “to replace older generation systems with newer models that have a longer replacement cycle, lower heat rates, higher efficiency and smaller footprint,” he said in a note to investors.

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