Futuristic Fuel Cells to Power County Buildings

Santa Clara County government center to become zero net energy.

Half of the electricity at Santa Clara County’s government headquarters will be powered by quiet, highly efficient fuel cells by the end of the year, Supervisor Liz Kniss announced Thursday.

The move is a part of a larger push to power county buildings with renewable energy, saving the County millions of dollars, said Kniss.

Fuel cells will be installed at four County-owned sites, including three in San Jose, the County Government Center at Hedding, Main Jail North, and Berger Drive buildings, as well as the Elmwood Correctional Center in Milpitas. Once final negotiations are complete and the cells are built in October 2012, they will produce 20 percent of the County’s electricity and 50 percent of the County Government Center’s electricity.

The addition of fuel cells is another step toward the County’s goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy use, also known as Zero Net Energy (ZNE). Other strategies include solar panels, renewable power purchase agreements, and energy conservation.

The County has already installed solar canopies on parking lots and solar panels on rooftops at four County facilities, including the Government Center. Solar will soon be producing nine percent of the County’s electricity and 21 percent of the County Government Center’s, according to a statement released Thursday by Kniss.

“The solar canopies alone will save the County $16 million over 25 years in reduced energy purchases,” said Kniss.  “Going Green is saving us big money.”

By combining solar, fuel cell and energy conservation, the County Government Center at Hedding St. in San Jose may become one of the largest Zero Net Energy buildings in the world, said Kniss. These types of buildings produce as much energy as they use.

The County is also relying on private companies to produce renewable energy on smaller county-owned sites under power purchase agreements. These agreements will save the County an additional $2 million over 20 years, said Kniss. These purchases, along with the County-produced electricity, will produce more than 194 kilowatt hours of renewable energy throughout the County.

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