Trump Administration Update

ExxonMobil
Ad by ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy, © ExxonMobil

The Trump government’s move toward fossil fuels has intensified in the fourth quarter. The Energy Information Center is primarily intended for power plants that are to receive a certain electricity price in order to be able to guarantee base load protection. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is committed to revamping and eliminating the clean power plan. The Clean Power Plan was in place to meet US-led CO2 reductions. Exceptionally, the government will reverse fuel consumption regulations for the period from 2021 to 2025.

President Trump removed nearly 2 million acres of federal land from wilderness protection in part to allow oil and gas extraction. (The oil and gas industry is not particularly interested in new leases at the moment but the symbolism is obvious.)

The administration has proposed a tariff on Chinese solar cells and solar panels, generally of 30%-35%, which would which would drive up the cost of small and large solar installations.

It is unlikely that these and other measures will have a significant impact on the US energy mix, even if all the changes are implemented, as larger forces are at play, including a glut of low cost natural gas and increasingly competitive renewable options, even with the tariff.

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All this is important for fuel cells for two reasons: California’s vehicle standards are driving the deployment of fuel cell vehicles, and any low-CO2 regulations or incentives have at least the potential to encourage the adoption of fuel cell power generation systems.

Fuel Cell Tax Credit

There has been progress in the effort to restore the Business Investment Tax Credit for fuel cells and various other advanced and renewable energy generating technologies, which was allowed to expire last December 31, 2016. An extension, with a five-year phase-down, was included in the massive tax bill approved by the House of Representatives. There was no similar provision in the Senate. After the two versions were reconciled, it became clear that the credit would not be extended.

ITC Impact

Fuel cell companies have said the expiration of the ITC is a blow to their business prospects. Bloom Energy told the State of Delaware late in October the expiration was “stifling Bloom’s growth” and “negatively impacted our business growth plans.” Under the terms of a 2012 grant agreement, Bloom promised to create 900 jobs in Delaware in return for a state grant, certain income guarantees, rent-free facilities and other enticements. Bloom reported only 302 workers and has returned $1.5 million to the State.

FuelCell Energy and Plug Power (purchasers can claim the credit for its forklift systems) also were affected. Both took steps to lessen the impact. FuelCell Energy is moving to a Power Purchase Agreement model, telling shareholders it can make more money with that approach than with simply selling units. Plug struck purchase agreements with Wal-Mart and Home Depot, as previously reported, that swap sales for stock warrants. The first bill for this arrangement came due last quarter: Plug reduced revenue by $26.1 million and warned investors in November of much more to come.

Bus Update

The longstanding California effort to encourage fuel cells for buses appears finally to be taking hold, at least in a modest way. The Department of Energy reported in November that the fuel cell bus fleet in California is expected to more than double in the next year or two. Four transit agencies in California are collectively operating 19 buses in 2017; two of these fleets will add a total of 33 more units. The bus fleet in Ohio will expand from five to 12, while three other transit agencies will each be operating one bus.  This would bring the grand total of fuel cell buses operating in the US to 48. While California has adopted regulatory incentives, and offers some financial support for demonstrations, in general US cities and states have not yet stepped up with meaningful support. Despite decades of effort and technical progress, fuel cell buses are still in “demonstration mode” in the US.

Exxon-Mobil

Exxon-Mobil is running television advertisements featuring their research partnership with FuelCell Energy to develop a low cost carbon capture technology for power generation. Exxon-Mobil has had a longstanding interest in fuel cells and in reforming gasoline, though its recent official position has been that carbon fuels will be with us for a long time. With Shell’s entry into the hydrogen fueling market in California, it is possible Exxon is reassessing. They certainly feel good enough about their relationship with FCE to develop the new ads. They were seen during American football games, a premium time slot.

The ad may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i41P68YgOI

Autor: Robert „Bob“ Rose, written in December 2017

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