PNGC runs fuel cell tests for rural customers

Portland, Ore.-PNGC Power, also known as Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, unveiled a big idea in distributed generation technology when it hooked up the headquarters of its member utility Consumers Power, Inc., in Philomath, Oregon, to a small prototype fuel cell on July 11. PNGC Power is one of 10 Northwest utilities selected by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to receive a prototype fuel cell as part of a regional program to test this emerging technology.

PNGC Power plans to site the fuel cell at the headquarters of all its member utilities in turn on a six-week rotation. One of its member systems, Central Electric Cooperative of Redmond, Ore., will receive their own unit to test. The fuel cell will supply power to office or shop areas, including sophisticated electronic equipment, in an effort to evaluate its ability to provide a high degree of power quality.

According to Kevin Watkins, PNGC Power’s vice president of engineering, load placed on the fuel cell will replicate as closely as possible the load profile of rural residential consumers.

“Rural residential customers have distinctive operating characteristics compared to urban residential customers,” said Watkins. “Our goal is to make sure these commercial fuel cell units can accommodate the needs of rural residents, who comprise our customer base. We believe fuel cells will be a practical option for these customers, and may save them considerable money in the long run.”

PNGC Power is one of 10 utilities selected by BPA from among 20 applicants to field-test the prototype fuel cells. PNGC Power underwrote half the cost of the fuel cell it will use, at a cost of about $25,000 each.

About the size of a refrigerator, the fuel cell is expected to revolutionize the energy industry in much the same way the personal computer changed global communications say industry veterans. The self-contained units can be installed where they are needed. Fuel cells convert fuel directly to electricity, so any pollutant emissions are negligible when compared to the combustion of fossil fuels. And fuel cells’ byproducts are carbon dioxide, water and heat, making them a more environmentally friendly energy source.

A single fuel cell can provide for the electricity needs of the average household that is not heated electrically. It can also meet most of the hot water needs of the average family, using heat recovered from the fuel cell.

The prototype fuel cell that PNGC Power will use was manufactured by IdaTech of Bend, Ore. Fuel cells are expected to become commercially available in 2002.

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