constellation energy

State Department inks clean energy deal; fuel cells find believers

Maybe it's just me. But every time I turn around, it seems as if clean energy has cleared another hurdle.

The latest to catch my eye is an announcement from the stodgy U.S. State Department, which inked a clean energy deal that it says won't cost anything but curtail CO2 emissions by about a third.

Not bad.

The deal involves Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, a utility-turned-energy-marketing company that offers a clean-energy portfolio of about 1,000 megawatts of renewable power generation. This power is either owned or under contract from sources that include utility-scale solar, hydro, wind and biomass power plants.

Last year the company completed its Criterion Wind project, a first for Maryland in commercial-scale wind energy. Constellation plans to begin building a commercial-scale solar energy facility also in western Maryland.

"This innovative agreement serves as a model for federal agency energy management," said Mayo A. Shattuck III, Constellation chairman, president and CEO, in a statement.

Federal facilities covered under the contract include part of the White House campus. Under the deal, a long-term power purchase agreement, Constellation Energy provides about 120,000 megawatt hours of energy annually to the State Department and other federal government facilities. Officials say the agreement encourages the development of new renewable energy facilities.

President Obama announced during his State of the Union speech that he had a goal generating 80 percent of the nation's power from clean energy. This, officials say, takes it a step in the right direction.

And on a lesser scale, there's this news from Hillsboro, Ore.-based ClearEdge Power, manufacturer of a line of residential fuel cells. I find the technology fascinating. I'm on the company's email list and normally give the announcements no more than a cursory look.

This one, however, caught my eye. ClearEdge said Jackie Autry, the former owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and widow of singer and actor Gene Autry, bought one of its fuel cells to heat and power to her Coachella Valley home.

Autry is quoted as saying the new system reduces carbon emissions as if she’d planted 6 acres of trees in her backyard. "I’m reducing my impact on the environment," she said. "It’s a home run."

The fuel cells save about 50 percent on utility costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a third, according to the company. Fuel cells work by stripping hydrogen atoms of their electrons through a chemical reaction. The ionized hydrogen atoms carry a positive electrical charge, while negatively charged electrons provide the current through wires to do work. Oxygen entering the fuel cell combines with electrons returning from the electrical circuit and creates water.

Simple right? That's what she said.

ClearEdge also announced a deal to sell 12 of its ClearEdge5 units to the Irvine Unified School District. The fuel cells will power and heat the swimming pools at Woodbridge and University high schools and provide extra power as well. The company estimates each school will save about $18,000 a year.

So, let's keep this stuff coming. Clean energy should be more than an adventure. I'd like to see it become a viable sector of the economy. That provides jobs.